Answering the call

Photograph of Caitlin Loo
Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of Canada, calls to Kids Help Phone surged. The mental health support service made a public plea for more volunteers and Caitlin Loo, Dentistry Class of 2022, answered the call. Amidst her studies and her own concerns about the pandemic, she became a crisis responder – a role she still has today.

It’s one in a long list of organizations within Schulich Dentistry and the broader community that Loo continues to be involved with. She credits her parents for instilling in her the value of compassion and the importance of serving one’s community.

Born and raised in Toronto, Loo admits to being a very shy child. That began to change when she was elected student council treasurer in grade five, thanks to her mother’s encouragement.

“That experience helped build my self-confidence and sparked something in me,” she said. “I learned that by getting involved and being a leader in the community I was in, I could make a difference. Then it just grew from there”

Grow it did.

Loo remained active in her school communities, engaging with more student government roles, the school newspaper, yearbook, tutoring, and serving as the president of the science club. 

Her volunteer commitments expanded further during her undergraduate and graduate studies, including her work with Let’s Talk Science, where she shared her enthusiasm for science as a program coordinator.

A desire to make a positive impact on people’s health led Loo to volunteer with St. John Ambulance as a medical first responder. It’s here that she started to gain experience interacting with people in times of stress and urgency and further convinced her that a career in health care was her calling.

“Working as a first responder has been a life changing experience,” Loo said. “It’s given me a strengthened sense of duty. It’s also taught me about working as part of a team and using my skills and training to take action and help those in need.”

Photograph of Caitlin Loo Ten years later, she is Deputy Chief of her unit with St. John Ambulance and while she continues to volunteer as a responder, she also teaches as a first aid instructor and assists with administrative operations, training, and recruitment.

Despite the rigours of the dentistry program, she has continued to volunteer with school groups and clubs. She has served as a mentor and executive team member of the mentorship program for a few years and is now President. She is also Coordinator of the DOCSKids program, was Co-Chair of Oral Health, Total Health, and has volunteered for Sharing Smiles Day, Brush-a-mania, and the Western Pre-Dental Society.

One of her most significant volunteer responsibilities is as the President of the Student Professionalism and Ethics Association (SPEA) at Schulich Dentistry. In this role, she oversees an executive team of nine fellow students and assists with the planning and management of events and related activities that aim to promote the values of ethics and professionalism among dental students.

She also serves on the national board for the organization and represents Canada internationally with the student organization. At this level, she liaises with other chapters, provides input and advocates for the Canadian chapters, and contributes to goal setting at an international level.

The SPEA at the School was established in 2016 with the goal of designing programming and hosting events that focus on professional development, academic support, and topics related to ethics and professionalism in dentistry.

Photograph of Caitlin Loo “I got involved with SPEA because I wanted to learn more about ethical issues in dentistry, get a better understanding of what it means to be part of a profession, and to learn from my peers and other dentists in the community,” said Loo.

The opportunity to meet other dentistry students and dentists from across Canada and the US and to witness their commitment to health care is inspiring for Loo, who believes it’s a great addition to her overall education.

Although the pandemic has changed much of how Loo engages as a volunteer and student, she remains positive about the coming months.

“I can’t say it hasn’t been challenging,” she said. “Not being able to interact with peers and faculty directly, being apart from family and friends, and not being able to be as active in the community as I want to be has been difficult. But we’ve all adapted and found different ways of interacting and learning.”

That learning has now extended to the clinic for her. Mid-way through the third year of her dental training, Loo relishes the opportunity to work in the clinic and interact with patients.

“It’s really my favorite part. Being able to see the work you do and the impact it has on patients is incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Looking ahead, Loo says she looks forward to continuing to provide care for her patients, developing her skills as a professional, and staying active in volunteering and leadership – all to benefit her patients and her community.