Many dental assistants pursue volunteer opportunities prior to obtaining a formal career or returning to school. Some choose to use their time abroad as a ‘gap year’ so that they can experience life in another country while also helping others. Volunteering abroad as a dental assistant looks great on a resume too. It is also gives new dental assistants experience to come back to the United States and continue working in the field. Organizations give volunteers the opportunity to go to new places, experience new cultures and meet new people. People in foreign countries who would not receive dental care otherwise are offered significant help from these organizations.
The tasks of a dental assistant volunteer will depend on a variety of factors, including the organization and the volunteer’s experience, skills, training and education. Some volunteers will work on administrative tasks and communicate with other volunteers and patients. Dental assistants take and develop x-rays. They also maintain and update patient histories and other charts. They set up dental rooms before patients come in and clean them after the patient leaves. Volunteers may be responsible for operating, cleaning and adjusting different types of equipment. Any equipment used in the patient’s mouth will be sterilized between uses. If volunteers have experience and education, they may examine teeth, perform cleanings, help the dentist fill and remove teeth and provide moral support for the patients. No matter what the volunteers provide assistance with, confidentiality is extremely important.
There are many agencies and organizations that offer opportunities to potential volunteers, and they work in a variety of locations. Many agencies offer a variety of positions for those with different skill sets and experiences. Dental assistants are in high demand and welcomed by many different volunteer organizations. Most organizations require volunteers who are gentle and can communicate well with patients. They are also required to have a certain amount of experience and the ability to perform specific tasks. While many dental assistants work with volunteer organizations in the United States, there are many more opportunities abroad. Africa is one of the most popular destinations for volunteer dental assistants; each year many travel to Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and other areas. Volunteers also travel to Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Peru remains one of the top places for volunteer medical workers.
Dental assistants should expect that many patients, children and adults, will not speak English fluently, if at all. Dental assistant volunteers will work directly with patients, most likely at a free charity clinic. For this reason, communication, especially body language, is a very important skill. The organization might introduce volunteers to the local language with a brief language course, but volunteers may also be responsible for continuing the process of learning alone. They should also expect that the working environment will vary from location to location and organization to organization. Daily hours range from three to ten hours each day. The living situation will be very different for each volunteer organization. Some volunteers will live with host families and others may live in a dorm setting. Some opportunities last two weeks and others might last a complete year. Volunteers should keep in mind that some clinics will work with people diagnosed with medical conditions such as AIDS, Malaria and TB.
Organizations rely on volunteers because they do not receive enough funding to help those in other countries from other sources. These organizations are constantly looking for volunteers with experience, skills and knowledge necessary to assist those who are in need of medical attention. The process of signing up and and traveling abroad will depend on each organization’s guidelines.
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