When you’re a busy dentist, or looking for a new position, volunteering your dental services can be the last thing on your mind. You’re already flat out with resumes or you’re trying to balance a busy lifestyle at home and at work. But volunteer dental work is not just great for people who have difficulty accessing dental services, it can also provide benefits for you aside from the ‘feel good’ factor.
If you are looking for work it can help you meet other dentists who might know of positions coming up, build your communication skills with different people and communities, and it can provide opportunities for travel in Australia and abroad. Numerous studies have shown that any kind of volunteering also brings mental and physical health benefits to those doing the volunteering. And dental volunteer work doesn’t have to be a big commitment.
When you’re looking for your first job you can feel overwhelmed by the search and your regular commitments. But you’re not just giving back by signing up for volunteer dental work, you’re also networking, getting to know other practitioners and demonstrating you’re a community-minded person.
In addition, your volunteer dental work also goes onto your resume and shows you’re determined to practice your skills. The Australian Dental Health Foundation (ADHF) coordinates the delivery of pro bono dental treatment through volunteer programs in all states. Your volunteer work could be the point of difference which makes you stand out from another equally-qualified candidate to a potential employer.
When you’re a decade plus into your dental career path, you have other responsibilities which may include a relationship, children and outside commitments. On top of that, it’s an expensive time financially, paying off student loans and mortgages. While you might not have huge amounts of free time, consider doing an occasional volunteer session. Dentist Dr Henry Gilkes, Lead Dentist at National Dental Care West Lakes and also a member of the Advisory Board to the ADHF, says volunteer work can be a really positive experience.
“Your time can really change someone’s life,” says Dr Gilkes. “I remember one young man who had lost his teeth and had one to two years on the waiting list to get them replaced. It was easy for us to make some dentures which gave him the confidence to go out and get a job. If you can’t smile, you don’t really feel like you belong.”
The nice thing about volunteering within your own practice or town is that you can make a huge difference without too much trouble on your part. However, for those who wish to dive right in, there are many opportunities to volunteer your skills overseas. You may be out of your comfort zone in a strange country with different cultures, with a myriad of dental issues and compromised treatment planning. However, the experience gained and friendships made more than make up for the inconveniences along the way, according to Dr Gilkes.
Dr Gilkes has volunteered overseas a number of times, most recently as part of the Timor-Leste Dental Program. “As dental professionals we are in the privileged position of being able to relieve pain and provide better dental outcomes for those who would otherwise go untreated,” he says.
The Australian dentists who travel to Timor Leste also have the important job of mentoring the local dental teams to help them better look after their people. “While it can be tiring, the reward is in seeing the lovely smiles of the children we treat,” says Dr Gilkes.
Dr Gilkes also advocates the Adopt a Patient program for all dentists. Dentists in this program are introduced to a patient who could otherwise not access timely dental care, and treat them pro bono during their usual work time. The ADHF coordinates this program, sourcing appropriate patients from many charities and providing laboratory services at no cost. If you feel that the Adopt a Patient program is something you would like to get involved in, then please contact Lesley Morgan who is the National Coordinator for the ADHF at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can help.
The ADHF also coordinates Dental Rescue Days, in which dentists and staff provide care to a group of patients within their own practice, with patients referred through charities and not-for-profits. Rebuilding Smiles is another ADHF program which offers pro bono treatment to domestic violence victims who may need immediate treatment for dental trauma, or have ongoing oral health problems related to lack of dental treatment over time.
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