"A Call to Service - Balancing the Books"
Dr. Nels Ewoldsen
In the wake of recent events it is appropriate to focus attention on globalism and the effects of technology.With each new technology it seems the world becomes a little smaller. Each new technology brings the potential to create wealth and wealth can create power; power to do good, power to do evil. In concert with Academy of Dentistry International’s mission statement, let us affirm that true wealth is not as much a measure of what we have, as it is a measure of how little we need. The most valuable technologies are those, which make wealth for all. A technology, which fails to improve lives of the rich and the poor alike, is potentially dangerous. Also today, it’s appropriate to remember those upon whom valuable technologies were used recently as weapons. We remember, as well, all who fell in the wake of that destruction. Especially now, the Academy’s work in Belize, Brazil, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, and India; programs such as “Bridging the Gap”, “Salud y Paz”, and “Thou-sand Smiles” must shine as points of light illuminating the human spirit. These programs make the world smaller through sharing gifts of health and education with sustained actions.
My comments tonight, titled “A Call to Service/ Balancing the Books” addresses both action and sustainability. Several years ago, a dental group from Nebraska visited a site in Honduras where 700 children had been enrolled in a new sponsored care program. Upon arriving we found things incredibly organized. Seven hundred medical records complete with immunization dates, medical histories and 700 blank dental charts lay before us. Patients had been triaged into Class I (apparently good dental health), Class II (some caries evident) and Class III (severe problems). There were 418 Class III patients.
As we stood wondering who’d gone to all this trouble, in walked Dr. Hans Dethlefs, a recent med school graduate. He’d prepared well for our arrival even contracting a local carpenter to build wooden dental chairs on adjustable bases. Following the introductions, Hans’ service philosophy, his love for teaching and love for healing became evident. When asked what brought him to Nueva Ocotepeque, Honduras Hans recounted a lengthy recruitment, application/acceptance process leading up to his “three year contract”. As the discussion continued I asked how the sponsoring agency was able to recruit a young, licensed, US physician, when Nebraska College of Dentistry was having a tough time filling vacancies with new dental graduates. “After all, even with student loan forgiveness” I said, “ entry teaching positions only pay enough to meet living expenses.” “Apparently your sponsoring agency has a loan forgiveness program”, I surmised.
After a short silence Hans said ”Yes, something like that”. “I am here on a debt forgiveness plan, but the plan I’m on doesn’t have anything to do with money”. All of a sudden the phrase balancing the Books went way beyond dollars and cents issues. A few years ago, my son Evan needed to reprioritize certain responsibilities so I told him we’d be going to Honduras where he’d work over a propane burner scrubbing dental instruments and monitoring a pressure cooker converted into a steam autoclave. “It’s important that you to pay attention to what you’re doing” I told him “these pressure cookers can explode and dental instruments make nasty flesh wounds”. I’m betting sometime early in the blood borne pathogen class or afterwards during the Hepatitis A/B vaccinations, Evan began to realize certain responsibilities were serious. After 10 days in Honduras he came home completely changed. He did not share the details of his most recent “call to service”, but he voluntarily joined me again this past summer in Honduras. Much of my job with GC America involves travel. Savings accrue through purchasing non-upgradeable, economy class tickets. Some of those funds get transferred to the dental mission budget. I thank GC America for answering that “call to service” assisting travel for those who would otherwise not be able to make the trip. Equally impressive are the dentists, dental students, hygienists and assistants who maintain, “the trip’s more meaningful if I have to raise my own funds.” Lawrence Meskin quantified dentists’ generosity in a recent editorial. His numbers suggest that generosity in the dental profession is both substantial and pandemic. Functions such as tonight’s ceremony suggest that generosity is not only pandemic but also contagious. I avoid asking volunteers what called them to service. After all, it’s personal. Another reason I don’t ask is because it’s often obvious. Volunteers answer “calls to service” out of love. They volunteer because they love what they do and they love sharing what they do with others. I am convinced that the Academy of Dentistry International continues to grow tonight because of the love dentist’s hold for their profession. It’s one way to say “thanks” for getting to do a job we love. So I leave you tonight with my contention that “calls to service” are based on love. Love comes in many forms and is exchanged many ways. The value of love is infinite yet it’s available for free. The harder we work to give it away, the faster it accumulates.
Love sustains us. In the end, the love you take will equal the love you make. Balancing the books is automatic whenever love’s audited. I’m thankful to be part of a profession that I love and I’m thankful to have a wife who understands. And, I’m grateful to ADI for allowing me to share these thoughts of love and service with you tonight.