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Value of Community Service

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WesternU strives to train compassionate, humanistic healthcare providers, and throughout the last several years of my education, I’ve been able to participate in many community service opportunities. Recently, I spent seven weeks at two AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) dental clinics providing low-cost dental care to members of the HIV and AIDS community. One afternoon, a woman walked in wanting to become a new patient. When the receptionist explained to her that the clinic was for patients with HIV, the woman responded with wide eyes, loud hysterics, and rushed out the door. Though no dentist could ever react similarly (ethically or legally, at least) when faced with HIV patients, many would still unfortunately prefer to not treat them. APLA provides a safe, judgment-free place for the HIV community to receive much needed dental care. While there, I learned that these patients can be some of the most in need of regular dental care and management due to the destructive nature of the disease and medications associated with it. I’ve become less apprehensive about treating this particular population and have learned how to better serve them. 

 

Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND) in Pacoima, CA, is an organization powered by volunteers whose mission is “to break the bonds of poverty by providing basic human needs and a pathway to self-reliance.” I have volunteered on multiple occasions on weekdays and Saturdays in their dental clinic. We help members of the community living in poverty by relieving their pain, improving their hygiene, and restoring their aesthetics and function. By eliminating dental infections, performing fillings, and fabricating dentures for those missing teeth, we improve quality of life for the patients. Some experience improved self-esteem and some are more able to eat and enjoy more balanced nutritious meals. After all, it’s easier to choose vegetables over French fries and ice cream when you’re not in pain and you have teeth to chew with. 

 

Sometimes with our busy schedules studying for exams, trying to finish graduation requirements, and attempting to maintain some semblance of a social life, it’s hard to find time to volunteer and give back to the community. However, one of the most valuable things I’ve learned from my experiences helping others is that it can be very nourishing for the body, mind, and spirit – for the volunteers, that is. Focusing on someone else’s problems gives you a break from your own issues and can help you put things in perspective. This reduces stress, which has far-reaching health and social benefits. Making a positive impact on someone else helps me feel good at the end of the day. Smiles are contagious – when patients are happy, smiling, and expressing their gratitude, I can’t help but genuinely smile back. Hopefully the next time an opportunity for community service comes up, you can think about how giving back to others can also mean giving back to yourself.