A Beginner’s Guide to Volunteering in Dentistry

By Dr. Natalie Bustillo, FDA Foundation Board of Directors

Volunteerism is an honored tradition in the United States and around the world, touted as a celebration of the spirit of community involvement. Certainly, our community is familiar with philanthropic work. In fact, it’s estimated that Florida’s almost 10,000 dentists may donate as much as $15,000-$30,000 in free care and treatment each year.

Some people volunteer because they want to help people, others do it for a particular cause and some volunteer to make new friends. Whatever your reason, it’s clear that volunteering provides a number of benefits.

Trying to figure out what volunteer opportunity to choose can be a confusing and time-consuming process. How do you know that the organization is doing good work? Will the project be the right fit for you? If you’ve contemplated volunteering but don’t know where to begin, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How much time do I have? It’s always better to wait until you know you have the time for community service. Consider whether you are seeking an ongoing, a short-term or a one-time assignment.

2. What causes or issues are important to me? Look for opportunities that meet your interests.

3. What skills and experience do I have to share? Many organizations are looking for qualified professionals to serve communities in need, whether overseas or right here in the United States.

4. What level of physical activity can I manage? It’s important that you be honest with yourself regarding the types of volunteer positions that are a good fit for you given your health and well-being.

5. With whom do I want to work? Do you want to work independently or with a team? Do you want to work alone, or with a group?

Once you have identified your expectations, ask your friends or colleagues about their own philanthropic activities. It’s likely that your friends will have similar interests and can suggest opportunities that are a good fit for you. The Internet has great online volunteer referral services as does your local library. If your interest is in providing dental care to underserved populations or dental health education to youth, I suggest you start with the FDA Foundation — the 2016 Florida Mission of Mercy is right around the corner and we still need volunteers! This is the perfect opportunity to sign up to volunteer your time and services to those in greatest need!

For more information and to sign up to volunteer, go to www.flamom.org. Don’t delay — volunteer registration closes on March 1!

Top 5 Reasons to Volunteer

5. Volunteering makes you healthier.

Positive emotions, like optimism and joy, strengthen the immune system and reduce stress. Experts report that focusing on others interrupts usual tension-producing patterns. In fact, volunteering also has been shown to lessen chronic pain or heart disease symptoms.

In my mind, an important factor regarding volunteerism is you need to do it for yourself. Do it to benefit yourself and you won’t regret it.” ~ Dr. David Russell, FDA Foundation President

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4. Volunteers learn about our government and social programs.

A solid understanding of these resources strengthens professional advocacy efforts and helps to solve community problems.

“I never knew there were so many community agencies and service groups that are interested in their clients’ oral health until Karen and I formed the Hillsborough County Oral Health Coalition. The agencies’ representatives met with us to discuss common problems and determine steps that eventually will cause an improvement in the oral health of everyone their organizations touch. Together, we approached the legislators within our county and were able to advocate for changes that will raise awareness of the importance of oral health. It was a rewarding experience!” ~ Dr. Terry Buckenheimer, ADA Trustee

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3. Volunteering promotes diversity, fosters empathy and encourages civic responsibility.

It stimulates personal growth by improving social skills, builds new friendships and broadens your support network.

“I have been on more than 35 foreign mission trips — six were with the University of Florida dental students. I enjoy them. The reason I do them is a feeling of responsibility to use what God has blessed me with to serve others. What always happens is I get blessed more than the people I am caring for.” ~ Dr. Bob Payne, FDA Foundation Vice President

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2. Volunteering can advance your career.

You meet new business contacts and gain professional experience you otherwise might not have. It also can expose you to professional organizations or fellowships that could be beneficial.

“It is natural to want to give back to this wonderful profession that has given me so much. Volunteering has allowed me to meet amazing people all over the country and especially in Florida. From children I have met while participating in career days at local schools to dentists and corporate leaders throughout the country, giving back has actually ended up giving me more. The friendships I’ve developed are a lasting treasure.” ~ Dr. Idalia Lastra, FDA Foundation Treasurer

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1. You make a difference.

Volunteering provides a way to have a real and lasting impact on the world.

“Churchill once said, ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ Volunteering for the FDA Foundation has given me — and so many others — a life of purpose. You can make a difference, too. Give your time.”  ~ Dr. Bill D’Aiuto, FDA President-elect

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The Time is Now — We Need You!

By Dr. Christopher J. Cowell

Volunteerism … it’s the lifeblood of any healthy organization. Without it, we don’t have anything. With it, we have the potential for anything and everything. So why do I volunteer in our dental association? It all began with how I was raised. I was brought up understanding that it is part of my duty to be an active participant in the areas of my life that have meaning; it was expected. Not everyone feels that way, and I get that. We all have busy lives that pull us in many directions. But, why did I choose my profession to be a major area of service in my life? Good question.

Maybe it’s because I feel like there is a sense of urgency or security; or, simply because dentistry is a field that I understand well. Perhaps it’s as simple as: I enjoy volunteering. I have a need to see my profession become the best it can be and, like many dentists, I am a bit of a perfectionist. I like having problems to solve. I also like the relationships that I have made with my dental colleagues. I can honestly say I have forged strong friendships with some great people while volunteering for our profession.

But, I think the most important reason I volunteer is because there is a need. There is a big need for us to make dentistry a great profession. Throughout the 17 years that I have been involved in organized dentistry’s tripartite, I have seen many areas of how our profession is shaped and assimilated to work in our society. There have been many threats to how we do our job. Through collaboration, our leaders in the dental field have come up with truly groundbreaking ways to help our society and combat these threats. Throughout all of them, it took people who cared enough to get involved and make a difference.

The biggest thing I want to impress upon my peers is when it comes to raising your hand to volunteer, take time to find one or two things that you like doing to help make a difference. Not everyone likes to serve on a board or travel for a weekend meeting or be involved in topics that bore us. Service to our profession can mean so much more than that. There are so many ways we each can get involved at a small level to collectively put our efforts in a forward motion. Something as simple as going to an affiliate meeting to show support and be a part of the body of organized dentistry. It can be volunteering your time to assist association staff — anything, and any amount of time, shows support to our profession.

Thinking about how I may help inspire others to become involved at any level, I recall two situations in my life that have helped shape me in making decisions. The first came about when I got to know a politician I met in Tallahassee, Rep. Joyce Cusack. I met her at the FDA’s Dentists’ Day on the Hill. She was a new legislator from my town and in our meeting I heard her use the phrase, “I am here to make a difference.” That phrase has always stuck with me. I would always leave my conversations with her saying, “Keep making a difference!” The second inspiration I got was through my parish priest, Fr. David Suellau. When he really wanted to make a difference and motivate the congregation, he would end his sermon with the phrase, “Think about it, pray about it and why not do something about it.”

So, my charge to you, my colleagues, is: Our profession needs you in whatever way you can help; think about it, pray about it and why not do something about it to help make a difference in our profession. The time is now — we need you!