Global Health Nexus, Summer 2003

A Spring Break With a Difference: NYU Dentistry Students and Faculty Set Up Free Clinic in Honduras

Spring break may be a time for kicking back for many students, but for 10 NYU Dentistry students and four faculty members, community service was the priority this year. During the March break, Dr. Stuart M. Hirsch, NYU Dentistry’s Associate Dean for Development and International Programs, led the group on the College’s first outreach mission to Honduras. There they teamed up with local dentists and dental students from the Autonomous University of Honduras to screen and treat 531 patients in an underserved area of this Central American nation.

Third-year NYU Dentistry student Aneta Kozyra-Mejia proposed the eight-day trip to Dr. Hirsch after learning about the needs of underserved Hondurans from her brother- and sister-in-law, both of whom practice dentistry in Honduras. Ms. Kozyra-Mejia worked closely with the Honduran government to plan the trip.

The outreach team focused its efforts in and around Copan, a town of 6,000 people that includes a large number of local laborers from the coffee plantations that dot this lush, mountainous region where dental care is a luxury few can afford. The team provided basic oral health care education and performed approximately 300 extractions and 240 fillings.

Since Copan has no public dental facilities, the team transformed its city hall into a clinic, hanging bed sheets from the walls to create separate areas for screenings, fillings, and extractions. In place of dental chairs, patients sat on white plastic lounge chairs as the tropical sun streamed through the wood-framed windows of the Spanish colonial-style building.

The team also visited several outlying areas in an old dental van donated years ago to Copan by a U.S. church group, but never used due to a lack of supplies and qualified staff. NYU Dentistry faculty stocked the van with supplies they brought from New York, and, since the van had no generator to power its operatories, they hired a local electrician to connect it to utility poles at each stop.

Associate Dean Hirsch said he hoped to send another mission to Honduras next year. “The need was so great,” he said, “we could have worked there forever. And now that our students know the opportunity exists, I expect that many of them will be interested in going back next spring.”