In 2019, Dr Natalia Trisna and Dr Trevor Pinchin, general dentists from London, Ontario took a leave of absence to travel the world and volunteer. Their experiences led them to start The Travelling Dentists, a non-profit organization that aims to inspire dental professionals and students to volunteer by organizing meaningful travel to bucket-list destinations.
There are many known benefits of volunteering. Studies have shown that volunteering can improve life satisfaction, well-being and help fight against depression. Most people think that giving back means helping others, but it can also increase self confidence and provide a sense of purpose, valuable job skills and career experience. There are also reports that show that volunteering can reduce stress, and strengthen the immune system. A recent study showed that volunteers had a 22% lower mortality rate than people who have never volunteered before!
Some dentists may have done some form of dental volunteering when they were in dental school. However, not many continue to volunteer their much needed skills. We conducted a survey to identify why this is. We want to know the barriers against dental volunteering.
We found that 97% of dentists and dental students want to volunteer, but the top two that stop them from volunteering are:
- Not knowing how to organize it
- Not wanting to spend their entire holiday volunteering. From our survey, it seems like dentists want to volunteer 2 or 3 days out of a 7 day trip, while students want to volunteer 4 or more days out of a 7 day trip.
These are valid points. If you google ‘dental volunteering’ on Google, you might be overwhelmed with all the options – many trips to developing countries are targeted to dental students and pre dental students seeking experience in the field of dentistry. If you look at the programs offered, the volunteering schedule is often gruelling, requiring you work for most of the trip with little time for leisure activities. While this may be appealing for students who seek as much exposure to dentistry as possible, it may not appeal to busy dentists who want to take a break from it all.
If you are a dentist who wants to volunteer, but don’t know how to organize one or do not want to spend your entire holiday volunteering, here are some tips that may help you.
Start with where you want to go
Where would you like to volunteer? Perhaps you want to volunteer somewhere warm. Or if you have family, you may want to go somewhere that is safe and family-friendly. If you have 2 or 3 destinations in mind, it may help you narrow down your search.
Decide how much time you want to spend volunteering
This will help you rule out programs that involve 1-2 weeks of volunteer work, leaving you little or no time for your own leisure activities. If you have a family or a spouse, talk to them and see how much volunteer work they would like you to do. Once you have figured out the ideal time you want to volunteer, you can continue your search to find the best program that suits you.
Joining a group
IMR (International Medical Relief) and Global Brigades dominate the dental and medical volunteering market. They have been doing this for a long time and have great websites where you can browse their programs. Read through their sample itineraries and see if their programs are right for you. IMR tends to be on the pricier side and Global Brigades is more popular among dental and pre-dental students.
Find local non-profit organizations in the countries where you want to go
If large-group volunteering trips do not appeal to you, you can find local non-profit organizations that may operate in the country you want to visit. You can email them directly and see if they take volunteers and what their volunteering requirements are.
Go on Instagram or Facebook to find smaller non-profit organizations or private foundations that need dental volunteers.
If you use Google, chances are that you will only find large, corporate-style organizations that have paid to be in the top search results. Social media can help you connect with smaller organizations that may give you a more flexible yet valuable experience.
Last but not least, our non-profit organization The Travelling Dentists has created flexible dental volunteering programs that may suit you and your lifestyle. We want to empower the dental community to travel to beautiful parts of the world and help those in need. Our programs are created to give you the freedom to achieve your dental volunteering goals, while also having time for fun and leisure activities.
- World Health Organization – Oral Care, Priority Action Areas, Oral health services. Website: https://www.who.int/oral_health/action/services/en/
- Caroline E Jenkinson, Andy P Dickens, Kerry Jones, Jo Thompson-Coon, Rod S Taylor, Morwenna Rogers, Clare L Bambra, Iain Lang and Suzanne H Richards. Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health, 2013
About the Author
Dr Natalia Trisna is a native of Australia and completed her DDS training at the University of Sydney, Australia. She moved to Canada with her husband in 2015 and works in a private practice in London and Cambridge, Ontario. She has a passion for travelling and giving back. She has been involved with numerous volunteering projects internationally and locally. Her experiences have led her to create The Travelling Dentists Non Profit Organization. She would love to give advice for those seeking to volunteer when international travel can resume again. She can be reached through The Travelling Dentists’ website: www.thetravellingdentists.org. Visit the website to see the programs offered, or send an email for help planning your ideal volunteering trip.
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