VCU Service Learning Reflections

Students at VCU School of Dentistry gain valuable practice-based experience and serve communities in need throughout Virginia by participating in the clinical service-learning program. The program allows senior dental and dental hygiene students the opportunity to treat patients at community-based and private-practice sites around the state. By serving on these external rotations, students gain critical skills working alongside practicing oral health care providers and make a profound impact on the community and people’s lives. 

At the end of their senior year, students are asked to submit reflections on the service-learning program and how it’s impacted them. These are some of the reflections from the class of 2022.

Visit the VCU School of Dentistry clinical service-learning page for more information about the program.

Jacob Mirpanah, DDS Class of 2022

“I look forward to one day frequenting free clinics like the Bradley Care Clinic in Roanoke and volunteering my time to help those who need it most. To the coordinators of our external rotation, thank you so much! We can all try through these reflection essays, but there is no way to adequately describe your impact on us as students, clinicians, and people. This has been truly incredible and formative in my experience as a dental student, and one that I know I will draw on for the entirety of my career. Thank You.”

Nicholas Fields, DH Class of 2022

“Participating in the external rotation program was nothing short of unforgettable. Healthcare workers commonly share a passion for helping, especially helping those who need it most, and these rotations give us the ability to help those in need and grow our skills as clinicians. Through this program, I had the opportunity to be exposed to different areas throughout Virginia. I was also able to experience different settings of healthcare facilities and more importantly meet different people. Every town is different, and no two places are ever the same. This holds true for patients and healthcare practices. Some places have less access to healthcare and as such patients are limited as to where they can seek help. On these rotations we enable others to access the services they need, and they provide us with valuable lessons.”

Chih Yen Liu (Gina), DDS Class of 2022

“I love giving back to the community. As an active member of the community, I think it is important to give back. I was an international student, and integrating into this country was difficult. However, I met many people who did not hesitate to lend me a hand, and I am grateful for them. Since then, I promised myself that when I have the ability, I will pass down this act of kindness by participating in community service events. Hence, I am so thankful for this service-learning opportunity because it combines my life passion – dentistry and my community service mission.”

Bella Pollard, DH Class of 2022

“All of the service learning opportunities from this semester have been truly rewarding. One of my most memorable is the time I spent in Lynchburg at the Free Clinic of Central Virginia. The attending dentist was very helpful with reviewing unfamiliar medications and medical conditions with us in order to prepare us for each patient. Similar to what I have experienced at other service learning sites, many of the patients arrived at the clinic with extensive decay.

My focus during each recall appointment was oral hygiene instructions including nutritional counseling, alcohol/tobacco cessation, and improving oral hygiene habits at home. I also realized just how valuable head and neck exams are during my time at this clinic. Many of the patients had not visited their primary care physician within the past year. The more service learning sites I go to, the more I see the value in taking what I have been taught and giving back to the community whenever I am able.”

Anonymous, DDS Class of 2022

“The experiences that I have had through our service-learning course have been some of the most rewarding and valuable experiences I’ve had in dental school. From my experiences at the external rotations, I have begun to consider a future in community health dentistry. At first, I was hesitant since I knew that most practices were located in rural areas or only completed a few types of procedures for patients. However, after going on these rotations, I know that at some point in my career I will definitely work at a community health center.

The values of service and compassion that are emphasized in community health are ones that I want to grow in and develop my dental career with. I was initially drawn to dentistry, because I always wanted to work in a healthcare service and help solve the problem of inadequate dental care. Even though there are financial pressures on dentists with loans, I never want to lose sight of my goal of always being a pure and kind-hearted dental provider. Helping patients through community health would be the best way for me to use my education for the benefit of society.”

Anonymous, DDS Class of 2022

“In August, I attended an external rotation in the heart of downtown Lynchburg. The afternoon before the rotation was slated to begin, my three classmates and I received an email stating that the air conditioning in the clinic was broken, and would likely not be repaired prior to our arrival. Upon our arrival to the clinic early Wednesday morning, the heat and humidity in the air was already palpable. In our morning group huddle, we were unsure of what to expect – would patients even show up? If they did, would they want to tolerate the heat? When the first patients arrived, the questions and doubts were forgotten, and there was dentistry to be done.

One event sticks with me in particular. It was Thursday, day two in the all-consuming heat, just before the lunch hour. I had a young patient in my chair with rampant caries, requesting to get as much work done on his treatment plan in the hour and a half appointment slot allotted. I prepared two adjacent core build-up restorations, both requiring indirect pulp caps. As I was adjusting and polishing the second of the two restorations, the composite resin fell out of the preparation. I quickly re-isolated the site, and went through my etch, bond, and prime protocol. I placed a new restoration, and yet again, it dislodged while polishing. By this point in the procedure, drenched in sweat, I was visibly frustrated.

As I was re-isolating the site for a third time, my patient raised their hand. I stopped the procedure, fully prepared for the patient to express their own frustration. Instead, the patient said, ‘Listen, I know it’s hot in here. I know you are frustrated. I promise you whatever this filling looks like, it will be better than what I walked in the door with. Thank you for taking the time to be here and see me today.’ After finishing the restoration, the patient again thanked me and shook my hand before exiting the clinic, unaware of how impactful his comment was on me. I am sure that I went on to see two or three other patients that day, but this is the appointment that stuck with me. This experience served as an awakening; a reminder that the patients we see on external rotations often appreciate our presence and service more than we would ever know.”

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