We all aspire to become dentists, but after graduation our paths will diverge in many directions. My dream is to establish a volunteer dental clinic in the Philippines. As a junior in high school, my family went on a dental mission trip to Manila, Philippines. We brought instruments, a lawn chair, flashlights, and did screenings on children within the basement of a church. This eye-opening experience solidified my commitment to pursue dentistry. Since then I’ve had a desire to return to the Philippines on my own dental mission.
In my second year of dental school, I had the privilege to participate in a Jamaican mission trip through the Christian Dental Society, lead by Drs. Jim Carney from Illinois and Bill Griffin from Virginia. I was inspired not only by the number of lives we touched, but also how established the dental clinic was. The Helping Hands Dental Clinic in the parish of St. Elizabeth in Hopewell, Jamaica is equipped with eight fully functional dental chairs, five additional portable chairs, an air compressor, vacuum pump and just recently a digital radiograph system.
Dr. Jim Carney, Dr. Sue Carney and their daughters
Establishing a dental clinic is no easy feat. Dr. Carney went on his first Jamaican mission trip with the Christian Dental Society in 1994. While he was there, he spoke to a nurse and found a location for a permanent clinic within the local health center. Dr. Carney then acquired equipment from his wife Dr. Sue Carney’s work: ten dental chairs, five sterilizers, doctor and assistant stools, cabinets and hand instruments.
Dr. Carney funds all his missions out of pocket. “Some ask how I can afford to do all of this and I say I can’t afford not to,” said Dr. Carney. The Christian Dental Society offers rental dental equipment at a fee, but all other expenses such as supplies, airfare and lodging are covered by volunteers like Dr. Carney.
Connecting with local Jamaicans was key to establishing and sustaining these clinics. After the first clinic, other local nurses and pastors contacted him to do the same in their village. While venturing the south coast to find the greatest area of need, Dr. Carney was directed to Hopewell. There he met Pastor Rowe and they created the Helping Hands Dental Clinic, the largest of all seven clinics Dr. Carney set up. Pastor Rowe and her husband take care of patient registration and clinic maintenance. “They are both tireless workers and an integral part of the team,” says Dr. Carney.
Besides working with Jamaicans, Dr. Carney brings his family, friends, assistants and even patients on missions. He also recognizes the support of neighboring dentists in his hometown that help him by covering his emergency patients while he is away. Dr. Carney also values working with the dental student volunteers and is “energized by the youth and the enthusiasm that students bring.” Likewise, dental students value both the clinical and spiritual aspects of the mission. “They spread the word of God at the beginning of each day, which was refreshing to the spirit,” says Ashley Dawson from Howard University College of Dentistry.
Dental students who have volunteered with Dr. Carney tend to participate in future missions, including Daryn Lu, Oklahoma ’15, 2014-15 ASDA vice president. Daryn says, “Watching the clinic and the community grow each visit is the reason why students return to the Helping Hands Clinic.”
With the responsibilities of work and paying student debt, when is the best time to participate or establish a mission? “Go as the spirit leads,” advises Dr. Carney. “Most people think they have to wait until they retire to do this type of thing, but they’re wrong.” Dr. Carney’s inspiration along with my experience to Jamaica are valuable lessons. I am more than excited to pursue a mission of my own.