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SPDL Projects- An Exercise in Patience

October 2, 2013

geriatric dentistryThere are several reasons that students choose to join SPDL (the Scholars Program in Dental Leadership). Some of these reasons include learning how to become a better leader, getting to work with faculty mentors, and helping the underserved. In addition to these reasons, I chose to join SPDL as a second year student to fulfill a promise that I had made to myself while I was applying to dental schools. I wrote down on a to-do list that if I was accepted to dental school, I would do something to help provide dental care to the elderly population, especially those who are nursing home residents.
When I started dental school, my mind was focused only on classes. I studied for Head and Neck Anatomy quizzes as though they were final exams, and I think that most of my classmates did as well. Once the D1 Fall Semester got rolling though conversations amongst classmates turned into constant complaining and groaning about how much classwork and studying we had to do. I was getting tired of the monotony of going to class everyday 8am-5pm and then either going to the library or staying to work on my pre-clinic typodont. I knew that eventually I would be allowed out of the lecture hall to actually do dentistry, but for the time being, I realized I needed something else to focus on. This is when I found my dental school to-do list, and decided it was time for me to own up to the promises that I had made to myself about what I wanted to accomplish during these four years. After talking with other students who were involved with SPDL (Scholars Program in Dental Leadership), I decided that having my own leadership project with a faculty mentor would be a way to do something with geriatric dental care.

When I made this decision to join SPDL and do a project on geriatric dentistry, I felt really excited that I would have my own project and would have something else to do besides schoolwork, but then I realized I had absolutely no idea what kind of project I should have for this broad topic of “Geriatric Dentistry” or how to find a dental school instructor to be my mentor. One of the positive aspects of SPDL though is that the students and faculty directors are encouraging and want to help students accomplish their projects. I emailed Dr. Russell Taichman, the SPDL Director, with my broad topic and he suggested that I contact Dr. Domenica Sweier, and after meeting with her several times and with her guidance, I was able to focus my broad idea of geriatric dentistry into a more specific project idea. As far as my SPDL project goes, I spent the majority of my D2 year just trying to narrow down my project idea. As motivated as I was to accomplish the project, the reality was that as a D2 student I still had a lot of school work and also had to study for Part One of National Boards. Even though it took a while for my project to get started, the faculty and mentors who are involved with SPDL projects understand that academics are the first priority. This is why SPDL projects are long-term projects. As such, I find that this is what has made my project so meaningful. Working on it over a long time has allowed me to put a lot of thought into it, to jot ideas down in a notebook, and evaluate what parts of the project will be more valuable than others.

After one year in SPDL and lots of brainstorming, I am starting to see my work come to fruition. I researched, created materials, and finally got permission from the Institutional Review Board to begin my survey project. I hope this plan will improve the access to dental care for nursing home residents. I am gathering survey data from nursing home nurses and nurses’ aides that will be used to hopefully make changes to a government issued document that is used to assess the oral health of nursing home residents. My goal is that my proposed changes to this document will be easier to understand for people who are not dentists but who provide care to nursing home residents and who still must evaluate the residents’ oral health. The goal is for these caregivers to more accurately assess nursing home residents’ oral health and understand when they need to recommend residents be seen by a dentist.

I have learned this year that it requires a lot of patience to complete a long-term project. Most people observe the end result of a project, but do not experience all of the hours that go into its creation. Therefore, I find that it is important to celebrate small milestones along the way, since they are all steps that will eventually come together to achieve the task as a whole. With my SPDL project it is very easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed by all of the details that are involved with its planning, however, I remind myself from time to time that the point of this project is that I will hopefully be increasing nursing home residents’ access to dental care, and therefore with SPDL, I have been given the opportunity to give back to the community.

brittany strawman picBrittany Strawman is a D3.

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