Humanitarian Trip

What’s It Like to Be a Dental Volunteer Abroad?

Humanitarian Trip

What’s It Like to Be a Dental Volunteer Abroad?

Dentists and hygienists preparing to work.

You may have many opportunities to volunteer through your pre-dental or dental school program, and we highly recommend taking advantage of them. However, you don’t need to stop after graduation! Becoming a dental volunteer abroad can enrich your passion for the field and deepen your skills as a clinician.

You’ll Get Amazing Dental Experience Volunteering Abroad

Volunteerism is more than just a great resume builder. Perhaps the most important aspect of becoming a dental volunteer abroad is the amazing experience you’ll gain. There are many skills you need to be a dentist that you can improve by volunteering.

Procedures You’ll Do Most as a Dental Volunteer

There is a huge variety of dental experience to be gained through an international volunteer program. The type of work you’ll do as a volunteer will likewise vary depending on the location and scope of your program. However, you can generally expect to focus on some of the following:

  • Home care education
  • Pediatric dental care
  • Dental health screenings
  • Extractions
  • Preventative dentistry
  • Restorative dentistry
  • Root canal therapies

Less commonly, you may also be able to perform some maxillofacial, soft tissue, or periodontal procedures. In general, especially if the program is short-term, you probably won’t do many interventions requiring ongoing or long-term attention such as orthodontics, although it’s not impossible!

Becoming a Better Doctor by Honing People Skills

Chairside manner can really make a difference in a patient’s experience in your practice. Volunteering abroad will, by necessity, make you better at patient management. The whole point of dental volunteerism is to serve people who generally do not have regular access to dentists. That means you may very well be the first dentist your patients have ever met, even well into adulthood! Through this experience, you may want to take that value back home to provide service where patients truly need you.

Many patients you will meet during your volunteer program will come to you anxious, afraid, and in pain. To make things harder, there will likely be a significant language barrier. You will likewise get these types of patients in your daily practice back home. Learning how to navigate these difficulties with patience and compassion early in your career can prepare you for true greatness. 

Assistant helps a young male patient with packing gauze in his mouth.

You Will Need to Think on Your Feet to Solve Problems

Imagine you’ve completed a successful lingual frenectomy on a child to help them overcome a speech impediment. Amazing! Great work. But how is your patient going to keep the surgical site clean and prevent infection when they don’t have dependable access to clean water? 

Volunteering as a dentist abroad will require you to think on your feet to solve problems. Many of these problems are not issues you’ll face regularly in your daily practice, so they’ll require some psychological agility on your part to come up with great solutions. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to adaptability and troubleshooting as a dentist!

You’ll Bond with Your Dental Volunteer Team Abroad

The bonds you will forge as a dental volunteer abroad can be profound. If you’re fortunate enough to travel with your dental home team, those connections will follow you back stateside and impact your working life in a great way. That’s why Community Dental Partners offers a Humanitarian Outreach Trip as part of our orientation process!

Speak with our recruiting team! Schedule your call

Beyond just spending time with your team and connecting, you’ll also find that dental volunteerism can improve your leadership skills as well. Most dental volunteer programs will put you in touch with local clinicians or coordinators to help facilitate your time in the country. Some programs also pool volunteers from several places and may float clinicians day to day. That means you’ll need to learn to be flexible and work with new people quickly, which is great for your future career and emotional intelligence.

Dental Volunteering Abroad Will Challenge You

The Clinic Will Look Very Different Than What You’re Used To

We’ve already mentioned how you will need to think on your feet and adapt to clinical challenges. However, it’s important to go into your volunteer time abroad with a full sense of what your clinical environment may entail. Don’t expect state-of-the-art equipment or gleaming operatories. In some cases, you may not even have continuous access to running water. Sterilization and disease prevention protocols will likely look very different than what you’re used to. 

While this may be an intimidating thought, don’t worry: if you’re traveling with an established volunteer program like CDP’s, they will have measures in place to ensure you can still do your best work. The great thing about working in a more challenging dental environment is that you will come home truly appreciating what you have. You will have learned to do with much less, and that will make your daily clinical practice feel like a breeze. 

You May Need More Help Than You Expect

Dentist and dental assistant look inside a young female's mouth.

Beyond the actual work itself, the admin that goes into dental volunteering can be staggering. Most dentists who volunteer abroad have at least a couple of stories about surprise documents they didn’t realize they were supposed to have, or other hurdles they had to jump. You may need a special visa or other permits depending on the location where you’ll be working. You’ll also want to stay informed and follow any health and safety advisories while traveling. That’s why working with a great program and experienced mentor dentists is an absolute must, especially if it’s your first time volunteering abroad. 

Volunteering Will Help You Learn About Yourself as a Dentist and a Person

Especially at the beginning of your career, every experience will help form your identity as a doctor. Do you most want to get your patients out of pain? Help them overcome fear or shame from previous bad dental experiences? Give them smiles they’ll be proud of? Exploring your values and deciding what you need to find fulfillment in your work will help bring purpose to your life.

Dental volunteering will get you out of your comfort zone and show you what you can really do for your patients. Beyond the personal satisfaction of bringing quality care to people who may otherwise never have had access to a dentist, your volunteer experience will leave you feeling confident to overcome any challenge in your daily practice. Schedule a call with a Recruiting Manager to learn more about joining our next humanitarian trip!

Dr. Craig Copeland
Dr. Craig Copeland Chief Dental Officer Community Dental Partners

A graduate of Brigham Young University’s Business Finance department and the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry, Dr. Craig Copeland, DMD first joined Community Dental Partners (CDP) in 2010, after co-founder Dr. Chad Evans invited him to an interview.

He instantly fell in love with CDP’s mission to elevate dentistry, make great dental care accessible, and provide unique and amazing experiences for underserved communities. The organization’s culture aligned with his own beliefs and he knew that CDP would offer him the ideal environment in which to grow.

Today, Dr. Copeland is the Chief Dental Officer of Community Dental Partners and focuses on helping CDP’s doctors exceed in their careers, through mentorship, training, and strengthening CDP’s support systems.

Dr. Copeland lives in Texas with his family: his wife and four children. He’s an avid sports fan, and supporting his children in their activities, such as basketball, gymnastics, and soccer, keeps him busy. He also likes to travel to new places with his family whenever he can.

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