Why you should volunteer

1 03 2010

Making the decision to actually do it is the hardest part. 

If you leave for a week or two to volunteer somewhere else in the U.S. or overseas, what will happen to your practice? What will your patients think if you’re not there to treat them? How can you get involved and what will it be like when you get there? 

Dr. C. Neil Kay addressed these questions and others during his Windy City Lecture Saturday afternoon. His was the last lecture of this year’s CDS Midwinter Meeting. 

During the lecture, he showed photos from trips he and his colleagues have taken over the years and talked about why volunteering, especially internationally, is something clinicians should do. It gives you a chance to give back, to travel and learn about other cultures, to share your expertise and skills with those in need and to learn from other dentists and educators also volunteering. Taking the time to help others in need will change your life, he said, and will renew your professional commitment. 

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer, whether it’s through a community development program with an oral health component, charities, combination programs that link you with a teaching facility or other organizations. No matter what route you go, it’s important to do some research and find a program you’re comfortable with. Dr. Kay works with Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO). This program has overseas and local directors, which makes it easier for you to get your questions answered and set up for your stay as a volunteer. 

Keep in mind that no matter where you volunteer or for how long, it’s a learning opportunity for you and your patients. You’ll likely be in an open air operatory and will have to work with what you’re given. You’ll be busy the entire time you’re there, with long lines of patients who are grateful for your services. 

If you’re thinking about volunteering, you should be committed to sharing your skills and knowledge, culturally sensitive, organized but flexible, innovative and a patient, good listener. You also have to be aware of local customs and local or national practice laws. Remember if you can’t do something at your practice, you can’t do it in another state or overseas. 

When you’re volunteering, you’ll surprise yourself with your abilities, Dr. Kay said. You’ll become more motivated and have a deeper understanding of the challenges underserved populations face. You’ll be able to work in different environments, and you’ll come back to your own practice with a renewed passion for what you do. And your patients will be interested in your stories and happy you took time away from your practice to help those in need. 

“It’s dentistry with an audience, but it’s the most fun you’ll have working,” he said. “You’ll come back recharged.”




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