{18} Humanity 101

SSM- A Course in Retaining Humanity among Medical Students

It is my understanding that the Special Study Module is designed to foster attitudes of altruism and dutifulness in medical students, and that by doing so will adequately prepare us for our future profession. The concept of community service is one that is intended to expose us early on to aspects of clinical care that cannot be taught or appreciated inside the didactic classroom.

For the Special Study Module I chose to apply as a volunteer at the Montego Bay Type V Health Centre. Since I made no request for a specific department, I was arbitrarily placed in the Dental Clinic. I spent one week there, working as an aid to the dental nurses and doctors and completed my required forty hours without incident.

Initially, I was unsure of what I would be doing. Having had little experience with patients in a primary care setting (and even less with dental patients in particular), I was not confident about my ability to serve the department well. In fact, my experience with dentists was limited to annual visits that lasted ten minutes or less. Nor was I exactly enamoured of the dental profession. Honestly, I did not like the smell of the latex gloves they wore or the instruments they used to poke around my mouth. In all, I had very mixed feelings about working there. My fears were groundless, though, since the department was well-used to volunteers and before long I caught on to the rhythm of the clinic.

My daily tasks included replenishing the supply of absorbent gauze, disinfecting the dental chairs and tools, preparing the work stations, assisting the nurses and doctors as they worked as well as a few basic administrative duties. Avoiding contamination was a very stringent business, and my uniform consisted of a lab coat, latex gloves, surgical mask and goggles. Over the course of forty hours, I began to get used to and even be grateful for the protection the gloves provided – for myself and the patients – a useful trait which will carry over into my career. I appreciated, even more, the importance of sterility in the health care setting.

The exposure to primary care has left an indelible impression on me. Prior to this experience, I had never been privy to the medical provider’s side of the industry, and the special study module has broadened my ideas of what to expect as a medical practitioner. During my forty hours I watched simple cleanings and multiple extractions; I learnt about fillings and the proper way to disinfect equipment; I observed the benefits and difficulties of primary care, and came to understand a great deal about the delivery of service in such an organization. I witnessed and quickly acclimated to a wide range of patient reactions; people react to pain in many different ways. I also took note of the various strategies of approach of the dental practitioners; no one strategy would work for everyone. I also gained an appreciation for the overlapping areas of health care. A patient could not have a tooth extracted if his/her blood pressure was too low, and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and epilepsy were carefully recorded.

During this module, I recognized and overcame my own squeamishness over the bodily fluids of live patients. I also gained confidence quickly in my duties and took a certain measure of pride in the fact that I was contributing (however indirectly) to the dissemination of health care. My week at the Montego Bay Type V Health Centre has given me a generous introduction to the field of primary care, an integral aspect of any medical practitioner’s career, as well as a basic understanding of dental care. It is my intention to retain the skills and concepts I have learnt and apply them in my own future clinical experiences.

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