Saturday, July 12, 2008

Week 5 - Jose

The week began and ended with me shadowing at the dental clinic all day. I was really happy to arrange, in conjunction with my DukeEngage “Encuentros de la Frontera” mentors, this shadowing experience because the clinic is a community health center that accepts people from all socioeconomic strata with diverse health conditions. People can qualify for reduced health fees and even free dental services. As a result, there are a lot of patients who have never in their life had a dentist or a doctor evaluate their health status.

While in the clinic, I was able to see a lot of dental procedures, and at the same time I learned a lot about the purpose of doing every single little thing they do. For instance, one of the dental hygienists told me that taking x-rays of the teeth and the surrounding bone not only gives the dentist information about the approximate age, teeth wear/personal habits, and oral hygiene. Often, it can also help the dentist identify early health conditions that the patient might not yet know like discovering that a patient is suffering from osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis. Since dentists are sometimes the first health professionals that the patient has ever met, this is important because dentist can make a referral to a doctor (in this case, a physician at the same community clinic) that can perform a more precise screening and thus treat the health condition at an earlier stage. This not only saves money to the US health care system, but it also preserves the general well-being of the individual. Since the dental clinic allowed me to interact with patients who have other severe conditions and/or who needed extensive dental care and oral health education, all of these learning experiences further showed me the importance and widespread need of oral care in the US. They definitely reaffirmed my desire to pursue dentistry and convinced me that I will someday, hopefully, make a difference in my community.

During the middle of the week, I had the opportunity to talk to several people from BorderLinks and the surrounding area in Tucson, Arizona. I found a familiar theme while talking with all of them: You cannot do anything in the US if you lack legal documentation. This defines everything you can or cannot do. You cannot cross the US-Mexico border to visit your relatives who live just across on the US side (whereas US citizens are allowed to cross freely to Mexican border towns and their identity is not questioned until they reach the checkpoint twenty-some kilometers south of the city-limits); if you are critically ill in the desert, you cannot be transported to the hospital by anyone except BORSTAR and Border Patrol (and these organizations can take hours before they arrive and find you in the desert); and you cannot get a job that reflects your studies obtained at another country (even if you are a doctor or dentist which could potentially benefit US health care by increasing access to patients who could not afford it before). Talking to individuals from this community has raised some questions I had not asked myself before – a big one being “How can this be solved so that these problems can be stopped?” As I continue my quest for a possible solution, I hope to continue learning not only from the organizations I work with but from the day-to-day people I encounter in life.

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