After 48 hours of flight delays, I arrived in Merida more exhausted than I was excited. A member of the Work the World team greeted me at the airport with a smile on his face, and soon enough we were on our way to the Work the World house.
Upon arriving, I was immediately impressed with how the team in Merida had clearly established a community-based culture among the students. Before I could even begin unpacking, I was invited to Progresso Beach with people I had met minutes before, and of course I couldn’t say no!
On my first full day in Merida, the Work the World team helped me hit the ground running. Their excitement for my experience was evident, and suddenly my stress from delayed travel was gone. I was ready to experience dentistry - Mexico style! I was introduced to the head of dentistry for the Yucatan Health Ministry, and he explained that I would be placed with other dental students on mobile clinics.
I challenged myself to see the greater picture; I wanted to better understand the disparities that the health department was attempting to mitigate.
The mobile clinics contained mini operatories and basic equipment needed for dental procedures, and they resembled those that I had seen in the States. Every morning, I arrived at around 7:30 and shortly after we departed for a rural community - smaller towns and villages usually located two hours or so from Merida. Once we arrived in the towns, we would quickly set up the operatories and begin seeing patients. I saw patients from various backgrounds - patients who simply needed a prophylaxis (oral health cleaning) to patients with untreated abscesses and severe periodontal disease. I challenged myself to see the greater picture; I wanted to better understand the disparities that the health department was attempting to mitigate.
After reflecting on the days’ procedures and patients, I began drawing connections to my own country’s health care. In the United States we have struggled to create an equitable health care system, and as a result we have citizens who have little to no access to health care - just like the patients I was seeing in rural Mexico. It was humbling to be a part of a team whose mission was to solely serve, and although I loved being placed with the mobile clinics, I wanted to see public health from yet another perspective. So, once again with the help of the Work the World team, I found my way to the local dental school.
Often in the States our greatest public service comes from dental schools because care is typically offered at a discounted rate. I wanted to see if dental schools in Mexico were similar. Almost immediately, I was introduced to a dental student who not only allowed me to assist her in the various school clinics, but who also gave me a better understanding of healthcare in Mexico. We talked about service, health care organizations, and rural medicine - all over ice cream and dinner (yes, you get to become friends with people outside of Work the World too)! We even spent a few nights shopping for dental supplies (tooth brushes, floss, toothpaste) which we later donated to the mobile clinics.
I learnt so much about dentistry, but I also left feeling inspired thanks to my housemates and staff.
My Work the World clinical and academic experiences could not have been better, and the same is true for the cultural and social experiences. I learnt so much about dentistry, but I also left feeling inspired thanks to my housemates and staff. At any given moment, the Work the World house in Merida housed people from at least five different countries. It was so easy to strike up a conversation not just about health care, but also about daily life in everyone’s home countries.
I have one final thought I will leave you with - if you’re thinking about going on a Work the World trip, stop thinking and go sign up now!