CDM Students Travel to Guatemala for Educational Exchange
Ten Columbia University College of Dental Medicine students had the opportunity to spend a week in March sharpening their communication and collaboration skills while working alongside dental students at the Facultad De Odontologia of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM), a dental school in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
The CDM students, all of whom are completing their third or fourth years in the DDS program, were accompanied by Dr. Biana Roykh, senior associate dean for clinical affairs, Dr. Terry Im, assistant clinical professor of dental medicine, Dr. Dana Wolf, senior associate dean for predoctoral academic and student affairs, and Daniel Lopez, registered dental hygienist and community dental healthcare coordinator. The purpose of the trip was to cultivate an educational exchange and, to that end, each student was paired with a UFM student and worked with their Guatemalan counterparts to treat patients in UFM’s clinic.
Joshua Lin, a fourth-year student at CDM who will begin a residency in periodontics at CDM next fall, says that the trip provided insights into the similarities and differences in dental education and treatments. In Guatemala, he says, students must select (and be selected by) a professional school immediately after they complete their secondary education. The course of study for dentists is six years. “I would have found it difficult to make that much of a commitment when I was 18,” he says.
The group spent most days, from morning to mid-afternoon in the clinic. In the evenings, he says, their hosts planned excursions and meals meant to show off the country’s rich culture and history. The group also took a day trip to Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to view the city’s remarkable Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture and ruins.
“One of our objectives is to align ourselves with the global mission of the university,” says Wolf. “Seeing how healthcare is delivered in other places is important to our students,” she says. “Experiencing a country’s culture can also give us insights.”
Rachel Utomo, a third year CDM student, says that she was drawn to the trip because of her interest in global health initiatives. Utomo, who grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, says that, by partnering with UFM, the group was able to avoid what she believes are the potential pitfalls of service trips. “With medical and dental ‘mission’ trips, you come in and do as much as you can,” she says. “But because very often, treatments don’t continue after the trip, we are not really fixing problems, just applying Band-Aids. By building a partnership with students and faculty at UFM, we can be more intentional with treatments. It’s a more sustainable model.” Utomo says that she was impressed by the school’s updated technology and its faculty’s expertise in cutting-edge techniques.
Utomo says that she feels the trip helped her to grow both professionally and personally. Now that she is back at CDM, she says that she feels “more confident in my clinical skills and diagnosing ability.“
Wolf says that there are myriad benefits and recommends that CDM students take advantage of this opportunity. “We see how education works in other places. We learn about other cultures. We get clinical experience. We interact with peers from other countries. And we get to help underserved patients.”