Dental Residents at Columbia Presbyterian

When I started teaching Dental Residents at Columbia Presbyterian, “burnout” was a major topic of concern in the profession. It still is. Most dentists (and physicians) are unhappy at work. In order to help my residents, I would tell them that to be happy in their careers and lives, they would need to find their motivations and feed them while identifying stressors and putting them on a strict diet. That was 35 years ago and since I’ve read a great deal and learned a great deal. Still, that charge holds true. Thanks to people like Daniel Kahneman, Noble prize winner and author of “Thinking Fast and Slow,” we now understand why.

This past week, I was able to feed one of my main motivators; being of service to others. I went into dentistry because I saw it as an avenue to help and develop long-term relationships with others. Because that was my motivation, I still enjoy what I do even after 40 years. I’m still helping others and still expanding the scope beyond the office.

Last week, I attended two meetings. One was our annual board of directors meeting for American Friends of DVI. The other was a strategic planning meeting for The Alliance for Oral Health Across Borders. I’ve worked with the DVI clinic since 1984 and joined the Alliance about 3 years ago.

The Alliance is a group of academics, industry leaders and individuals who believe that they can facilitate or become “change agents” for communication and understanding between areas of conflict, and that such change can lead to greater change with peace and health being the ultimate goals.

American Friends of DVI has been supporting the DVI free children’s clinic whose mission was to provide dental care for indigent children regardless of their religion, ethnicity or national origin. It accomplishes this mission by enlisting the help of volunteer dentists of all faiths, colors and ethnicities from over 35 countries.

The DVI clinic has served as a model of successful interaction and diversity. And, since children’s dentistry has now been included in the national health system, its mission has changed. It now provides care for both “at risk “children and adults. “

DVI now cares for Israeli soldiers who are discharged from their service with disabilities. They provide dentures for the elderly who cannot afford them particularly for Holocaust survivors. They serve several homes for children and young adults who have been taken from their homes because of abuse and/or neglect. And, of course, they serve those for whom even the modest co-pay to the national system is too great a burden. And yes, they still care for EVERYONE … Arab, Israeli, Jew, Christian and Muslim.

The DVI clinic now services more than just children. It helps others who need their help and they do it with volunteers who embody the motivation of “helping others.”

The Alliance has a much loftier goal. Being ‘change agents’ on an international and global scale is a daunting task, yet this past Wednesday, I heard a story of success that is most heartening. It involves two countries in conflict; India and Pakistan.

Our meeting in New York, at NYU’s executive conference center was attended both in person and by phone by people from all over the world. There were representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Pakistan and India, the United Nations (UNESCO), the American Dental Association, Dental Schools from all over the country, and Industry all seeking a way to facilitate dialogue among people through educational programs related to people with disabilities what we call “Special Needs.”

Dr. Hasnain Sakrani of the Altamash Institute of Dental Medicine in Karachi, Pakistan gave a report on an Alliance-inspired and promoted program for special needs children that is now up and running along with a component that facilitates communication between their faculty and the faculty of the Maulana Azad Institute of Dental Sciences in New Delhi, India. They, too, have set up a Department of Special Needs and Comprehensive Care as a direct result of the Alliance’s efforts.

I am also involved with yet another organization called Shalva which cares for children with special needs and their families located in Jerusalem. I serve on their Oral Health Advisory Council. This coming February, an amazing event will take place facilitated by the Alliance. Dental students and faculty from Temple University’s Dental School in Philadelphia will travel to Jerusalem and spend their days at Shalva where they will interact with Shalva’s staff, students and faculty from the Hadassah School of Dentistry and the Al-Quds University School of Dentistry.

Interaction centered around the “care of those in need by those who can provide this care” is the formula the Alliance seeks to promote.

Yes, there’s hope.

These projects are in perfect alliance with my primary motivation of helping others. It’s what keeps me energized, enthusiastic and engaged.

I love being the “change agent” in your life’s path towards excellent health and wellness just as I love belonging to organizations that do the same on a grander scale and more communal basis.

To everyone’s excellent health and wellness,

Can you find me? I’m between Dean Palmon of Hadassah and Professor Sakrani of Pakistan.