Tips From Current D.D.S. and Dental Hygiene Students

Navigating Your Experiences in Public Health During a Public Health Crisis

Posted by Poonam Furmah on January 21, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly altered the traditional predental experience. Due to this public health crisis, there are a number of requests from community-led initiatives, government agencies, charitable organizations and nonprofits in public health for volunteers in a variety of roles. This pandemic, although dreadful, offers unique opportunities for prehealth students to serve their local community. However, students must make informed decisions and maintain a superior standard of care to prevent further community spread to themselves and others. Not only will this add valuable skills to your repertoire, but it will also benefit those who need it most during this uncertain time.

Informed Decision-making

As future health professionals, you must make informed decisions before committing to these volunteering experiences. Here are a few important questions to keep in mind before venturing out to your next volunteer experience:

  • What does this role specifically entail? Who am I benefiting and at what cost?
  • Are the services that I’m volunteering for absolutely crucial during a pandemic?
  • What training and supervision will I receive? Will I be offered safety training in this role?
  • Will I be offered the correct safety equipment, such as appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)?
  • What is the likelihood of being exposed or spreading the COVID-19 virus further in this role?
  • How will I manage my well-being in the case that I become ill?
  • Can any of these tasks be completed remotely?

If you choose to engage in these public health activities, make sure you can confidently answer these questions before committing. If you’re unclear or uncomfortable about any of the tasks being asked of you, do not hesitate to ask for clarification and support from the organization. Remember, there is nothing wrong with centering both your safety and the safety of those around you!  

Opportunities in Your Community

In spite of the pandemic, volunteer opportunities are still available, especially to those interested in public health. Reach out to local public health agencies to see if there are any opportunities available, provided they prevent or minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Opportunities include the delivery of resources, such as PPE or food resources, and symptom screening of community members. Examples of in-person volunteer opportunities are:

  • Temperature/symptom screening at community health clinics,
  • Food pantry assistance or volunteer grocery delivery programs,
  • Community health agencies, such as needle exchange programs or communicable disease office support volunteers and
  • Home care volunteers.

Opportunities at a Distance

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations cancelled fundraisers or community initiatives, saw declining donations and had to reduce volunteer and staff hours substantially. However, some organizations have adapted to these changes by shifting their efforts. Virtual or remote volunteering opportunities have been very popular during the pandemic and provide ample opportunities for predental students to develop their skills. There are many opportunities for students to contribute to community care without engaging in direct physical contact. Examples of these opportunities include:

  • Mental health support via helplines,
  • Social support caller to long-term care homes,
  • Remote collection of PPE or food resources,
  • Remote research on the effects of COVID-19 and
  • Translation of health promotion material for non-English speakers.

Your support of community service initiatives is admirable, especially during a global pandemic; however, you must ensure the safety and well-being of yourself and those around you. Remember to protect yourself using safety precautions, monitor up-to-date public health advice and stay informed about the potential risks of participating in volunteer opportunities.

About Poonam Furmah:

Poonam Furmah_headshot

Poonam Furmah

Class of 2023

Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine

Poonam Furmah, originally from Brampton, Ontario, completed her undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Waterloo. Currently, she is a second-year dental student at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. She is actively involved with her community as the Dental Director of the Student Run Health Clinic and a Student Consultant for the Ohio Dental Association. Her passions lie in public health dentistry, sports dentistry and freelance writing. In her free time, she hosts a small public radio show and plays bass guitar.