News: Outreach Pilot Project comes to life

By Jennifer Parraga, BA'93

The Schulich Dentistry Outreach Pilot Project came to life this March and April, as fourth-year dentistry students headed off campus to the Oxford County Community Health Centre (OCCHC) in Woodstock and Moose Factory to experience the delivery of dental care in multi-faceted clinics.

Established under the leadership of Dr. Abbas Ali Jessani, the Pilot Project was established to serve as the foundation for a new community engagement elective for all clinical dentistry students. It is replacing the former training students received through the Dental Outreach Community Service program. Starting this fall, Dr. Jessani envisions making these community outreach rotations a mandatory component of the undergraduate dental curriculum at Schulich Dentistry. 

Daniel Bitar and classmates in a dental clinic operatory“It was an absolute privilege,” said Daniel Bitar, who participated in the first session at OCCHC. “Participating in this type of program helps dentistry students understand the drastic need for public dental care initiatives and it allows us to better transition into private practice.”

“I decided to pursue a career in dentistry to have the ability to make an immediate impact in the lives of others. So naturally, community outreach is something I gravitated toward,” Bitar said.

Zion Lee is interested in exploring and better understanding public health and oral care in underserved settings. And he was inspired to participate in the pilot project because of his circumstances growing up.

“Growing up in a low-income family, I understand. As a result of my life experiences, I know there are still barriers when accessing dental care in Canada,” he said.

Dental student Zion Lee in a dental clinic operatoryThroughout the two weeks of experiential learning experiences, students learned about patient care with a focus on person-centred care in an interdisciplinary health care setting.

“This was my first time being part of a team at a community health centre,” said Lee. “Before the orientation, I was unaware of how care was coordinated and what support services are available."

Lee says that he and his peers were able to learn about the different roles and programs facilitated by other team members, including meal planning, food budgeting, living with chronic disease, and learning opportunities for youth.

“While we were focused on dental needs, it was extremely helpful to see the bigger picture behind the treatment and ensure other needs were being addressed,” he said.

Samantha Chow, who participated in the oral health project at the OCCHC, says she learned more about the importance of understanding the whole person and not just the dental issue the individual presents with.

“It’s our job as dental professionals to understand the environment in which people live, the factors that affect their lives and by doing so, we can develop greater empathy and sensitivity,” she said.

Dental student Nour AbualiShe also recognized her role as a dental professional in becoming a strong advocate for policies, programs and funding.

All the students appreciated the opportunity to use their skills in new and unique environments.

“Participating in this program really enriched my education and brought together key concepts that I learned throughout my studies,” said Nour Abuali, who participated in the project at the OCCHC. “The whole experience was enlightening, enriching and humbling.”