Helping patients deal with the pain associated with rising health and dental care costs is a lesson pre-health students at Wake Forest won’t soon forget.
That’s why members of the pre-medical honor society Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), the Pre-Dental Student Association (PDSA) and students at the Wake Forest School of Medicine volunteered at the North Carolina Missions of Mercy (NCMOM) free and portable dental clinic this past weekend.
NCMOM is a grassroots effort that relies entirely on volunteers to provide basic dental services to people in need. More than 100 Wake Forest students volunteered for the two-day event that turned the Dixie Classic Fairgrounds’ Education Building into an 80-chair dental clinic and served hundreds of patients.
Senior Lee Mendenhall, one of the AED service chairs, got involved with NCMOM after meeting a graduate student who couldn’t afford dental care and attended one of the clinics to get help. Volunteering with NCMOM was an opportunity to put his pre-health expertise to good use in the spirit of Pro Humanitate.
“Getting a chance to help with the Winston-Salem Mission of Mercy clinic was extremely rewarding. As a pre-med student, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of why I started on this path,” Mendenhall said. “We work so diligently to overcome the academic rigor associated with it, we forget that, in the end, it’s all about helping to heal and serve our fellow neighbors. Programs such as Mission of Mercy serve as a clear reminder of that goal.”
Senior Bryson Rominger, a Magnolia scholar who is applying to dental school, attended the first sign-up event to speak about his NCMOM experience.
“I decided to participate in this NCMOM Clinic along with others because I see the dire need of oral health care in our state. The clinics always leave a lasting impression on me every time I volunteer at them,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the number of people who cannot access dental care, but at the same time, it’s so rewarding to see them leave the clinic after being helped.”
Besides supporting a worthy endeavor, many of the student volunteers gained valuable hands-on experience. Many of the pre-dental students got to work directly with the dentists and shadow them during the day. Many students are also emergency medical technicians and certified nursing assistants so their experience with patients is invaluable during the clinic, Lord said.
“I think they all recognize that not only is this great experience but it’s a great opportunity for them to give back and to really see what happens when you don’t have insurance – when you can’t afford not just dental care, but how this relates to medical care, too,” said Pat Lord, director of the Health Professions Program.
Senior Stephanie Campbell, PDSA president, spent time Friday afternoon sterilizing supplies cases. While it wasn’t hands-on experience with patients, she understood the importance of her role in the overall effort.
“You can truly see the need that’s in America that people have,” the aspiring dentist said. “People wait in line a long time to get this care that they need. It’s good to see the community come together to give back.”
Campbell had the added bonus of working alongside her aunt, Lisa Campbell, a dental hygienist instructor from Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, who was volunteering with a group of students and fellow instructors.
Ekta Patel, a pre-dental student and PDSA co-president, said she volunteers because NCMOM provides a unique environment for patients, students and doctors to come together and stay true to the service aspect of health care. “I believe NCMOM clinics have allowed me to grow as a potential student by exposing me to the realities of dental care and the overarching need for dental care among communities around the state and across the country,” she said.
Student volunteer Pierre Duncan, a junior, created a video about the volunteer experience.