Two USC pre-dental students had a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” this summer. Grace Towery and Moya Shaw gained valuable hands-on experience shadowing and assisting Guatemalan dental professionals through their participation in the VAW Global Dental Interns project from June 1 to June 15.
Volunteers Around the World Global Health Alliances (VAW Global) helps provide dental clinics across low and middle-income countries, such as Guatemala, through its VAW Global Dental Interns project. Interns in the project assist with dental procedures, treatments and regular clinic operations.
"While Dr. Morales was doing a cleaning, I would just hold the little suction thing in the patient's mouth, so you don't get much water in their mouth. So, just kind of — basically set up like that," fourth-year biology student Towery said. "I spent, luckily, a lot of time in shadowing."
The trip was “very culturally immersive,” according to Towery. Towery and Shaw spent six days in the clinic, but they were in Guatemala for two weeks. During that time, they stayed with a host family.
“Our host mom was so nice. She cooked all of our meals for us; really got to taste the traditional Guatemalan cuisine. She brought us lunch every day at the clinic. They kind of become your family,” Towery said
Towery said her experiences working in Guatemala led her to adopt a new mindset.
“Going on this trip has definitely made expressing gratitude, just, like, such a bigger part of my life. I'm a lot more aware of it. I'll catch myself now if I'm complaining about something. I'm like, ‘Why am I complaining about this? I literally have everything I could possibly need,'" Towery said.
Second-year public health student Shaw helped organize her and Towery’s trip to Guatemala.
"I was selected as the pre-dental chair of Volunteers Around The World. I was put in contact with a VAW coordinator, and we kind of worked together to figure out how I'm going to have a team, how I'm going to market for it," Shaw said.
The only students from USC who could go on the trip this summer were Shaw and Towery because they started fundraising late in the year, but they said they're hopeful they can get more students involved this school year. Shaw is currently in the process of making the VAW dental chapter a club on Garnet Gate, where it will encourage students of all levels to participate in dental shadowing abroad.
“It is, like I said, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I really want as many people to know about it as possible," Shaw said. "It's so special, and it really changed my outlook on dentistry."
Before the trip to Guatemala, Towery said she was waffling between dentistry and becoming a medical student. Her experience working in the clinic helped solidify her plans after she graduates.
“I always liked medicine, but I was like, ‘There's something missing here.’ And I feel like I found that in dentistry," Towery said. "I've gotten to see a lot, but going on that trip just really solidified for me personally — that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life."
Mark Stanley, CEO of VAW Global Health Alliances, said he encourages all students, regardless of major, to go outside and experience the world in a way you never have before.
"Whether you're gonna be a doctor or a nurse or a business person or anything, it doesn't really matter what you're going into: Get out. Get outside of your environment, get outside of your comfort zone and go try something different. Expose yourself to a different culture," Stanley said. "It will broaden your horizons. It will open up doors to you, you never thought even existed."
Though there isn't a VAW dental chapter on Garnet Gate, there is a general VAW chapter available to students.