It may have only been five days, but attending the National Dental Association’s Inter-Professional Student Leaders Colloquium and Summit provided invaluable life experiences for two A.T. Still University-Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-ASDOH) students.
During that brief time, they met with elite speakers and mentors, and had a chance to provide care at a Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic that served more than 1,500 patients.
“I feel like I’ve achieved growth in so many different aspects,” said Belema Ogbanga, D3. “I’ve grown as a clinician, humanitarian, researcher, and pupil, all in five days.”
Ogbanga and fellow ATSU-ASDOH student Trisha In, D1, attended the recent summit in Knoxville, Tennessee, with Kim Perry, DDS, MSCS, FACD, associate vice president, strategic university partnerships. Dr. Perry, a summit speaker, is the National Dental Association’s 93rd past president and knows how important such experiences can be for Student National Dental Association members.
Students received leadership training and faced exercises in which they were tasked with finding solutions to different healthcare topics, such as combating opioid misuse in underserved communities.
“We see (students) as leaders to improve outcomes for underserved populations,” Dr. Perry said.
To become tomorrow’s leaders, students gained insights from those leading their fields today.
“We were able to pick the brains of health professionals who have accomplished monumental achievements, and that really gave me a sense of motivation to keep going on the path I am now,” Ogbanga said.
In said it came at an opportune point in her life, as she’s still molding herself into the dentist she wants to become.
“I realized that during these next few years, I need to be an advocate for myself, so that way I can advocate for all patients, as well,” In said. “A lot of this lies in policy, which is where the greatest change can happen and the most disparities can be addressed. Many of the leaders before me, including Dr. Kim Perry, have already paved so much of the way, and it’s my social responsibility to continue on their line of work.”
RAM hosted the summit and a clinic that provided nearly $900,000 in free medical, dental, and vision services to underserved patients. Dr. Perry, Ogbanga, and In volunteered and put ATSU’s mission to work.
“These are people who live in rural areas, at or below the poverty level, who really don’t have access to care, cannot afford care,” Dr. Perry said. “It was an amazing opportunity to be a part of that.
“A.T. Still’s mission is to provide comprehensive care to an underserved patient population and our model has students training in community health centers,” Dr. Perry said. “This was an opportunity for our two students to experience the patient population that they would encounter when they go out to work within those community health centers. These types of events, you just get to see the mass numbers of people, how great the needs are.”
People were lining up before 4:00 a.m. for a chance to receive healthcare services, creating a long day for both patients and providers. But the services provided, and differences made, were apparent and well worth the wait.
Dr. Perry described one encounter she observed where a patient received multiple extractions.
“You could see how happy she was, how elated she was, because she had been in so much pain for so long,” Dr. Perry said. “She literally hugged the doctor. You could see the tears coming down from her eyes.”
Making that kind of difference meant everything to Ogbanga.
“If I had to sum it up in one word,” Ogbanga said, “the experience was invaluable.”