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The added value of community service.

Volunteerism has been instilled in me since I was a young child. Growing up, one of our family rules was, "share or don't get." That simple, odd-sounding phrase gave me a sense of justice and fairness when it comes to how we treat other people. Nothing in this life is singularly ours to keep and withhold from others; it is our responsibility to lift others up and help when we can. It is what all of us dental hygienists carry with us every day, as we step into the office and prepare to treat the public.

As I began my career as a dental hygienist, I wanted to take my new education and use it to travel abroad and help others on what I thought was a grander scale. It took me to several countries and continents in pursuit of this dream. I have worked in some places where there was no electricity or, if we were lucky, we had a generator to power our clinics. After much thought and experience, I have realized that you do not always need to go abroad to find satisfaction in volunteering. In fact, one of the most impactful things you can do is to help your local community.

Giving back by way of volunteering has several benefits, chief among them, a healthier life! The Corporation for National and Community Service has outlined several key benefits that service has on our health including lower depression rates, higher life satisfaction rates, and a longer life. (1) When factoring these into our lives, we break down the barriers of entry for service like motivation or health concerns. There are no age limits to service, you just have to be willing. Starting service earlier will decrease the chance for barriers to hinder you later in life.

Another benefit, of course, is the satisfaction of a job well done. Similar to our lives in private practice, taking the tools and knowledge we have into a setting that benefits others increases our love for the profession. A great opportunity that exists in most of our states is Mission of Mercy (MOM). As I lecture about humanitarian dental trips, I like to bring up the most recent statistics in the state in which I'm speaking: What percentage of the people are living in poverty? How many people have access to dental care? What are the rates for hunger? These questions put into our minds how very important quality of life really is. The Virginia Dental Association addresses the fact that 3.8 million people in their state do not have dental insurance, which is about 47 percent of their population. More than half of their 120-plus localities do not have a safety net dental provider. (2) They set up a page specific to their partnership with MOM and their mobile program. Since 2000, MOM has completed 85 projects, providing more than 59,000 patients with free dental care valued at $38.3 million, through participation by more than 23,000 volunteers. (3)

Volunteering allows you to learn new skills and adds another line to your resume. Whether you are a student applying for school or looking to transfer to a new job, resumes are important. Open positions seem to come few and far between nowadays. Many of us have the same work experience and similar education. But what are you writing in the "additional information" section? Doug Perry, of suggests, "Here you would list things like volunteer service or work you have done as a member of your local or national association." (4) This should set you apart from the rest of the pack. It could make the difference between being waitlisted for an opening for school or getting in!

Volunteering unites a community and creates an environment to make new friends. When was the last time you made a friend? Do you remember how you met? Most of our friends come from a group or community of sorts, whether it's school, work, church, sports, etc. These things give us common ground to begin a conversation with people. Even the shiest people usually make friends while volunteering. Many of those friends will be from different pockets within the community, creating cross-cultural and boundary-breaking connections. It allows us to see what other people experience and helps us learn to empathize with them. It also opens ourselves to others, which can be very difficult.

The last added value I wanted to share is that volunteering gives us insight into our future. This can be interpreted in many ways. Maybe the people or cause we are serving will have a permanent paid position available that would suit you quite nicely. In fact, if there is a subfield or tangential field you might be interested in, begin volunteering there and see what you can learn. Maybe the community you are serving will one day be one that you are a part of, and receiving service from others. This would help you better help them.

Last year, our Seattle community came together and delivered dental services in the Key Arena. Thousands of people were served, and millions of dollars worth of treatment was rendered. This year, the hope is to see 4,000 patients and render $3.5 million in services. (5) I am so proud to belong to a community who believes in providing for those who can't provide for themselves. I am proud to be a part of a profession that "gets it." My email inbox is always open to your questions or concerns in regards to community service!

Andrew Johnston, RDH, BSBM


(1.) Corporations for National and Community Service. Available at: Accessed Sep. 28, 2016.

(2.) Virginia Dental Association Foundation. Mission of Mercy. Available at: Accessed Sep. 28, 2016.

(3.) Virginia Dental Association Foundation. MOM details. Available at: Accessed Sep. 28, 2016.

(4.) Formatting a great dental hygiene resume. Available at: Accessed Sep. 28, 2016.

(5.) Seattle Center Foundation. Seattle/King County clnic. Available at: Accessed Sep. 28, 2016.
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Author:Johnson, Andrew
Date:Nov 1, 2016
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