Volunteering Helps Others, Yourself

January 22, 2016
Bill Schu

By the nature of their profession, dentists play an important role in their communities. But volunteering can expand a dentist's impact.

As a practicing dentist, it’s often difficult to find time to keep up with your office hours, much less pursue a lot of outside interests. But for some, who question, “Is that all there is?” or for those who may be nearing retirement, you may want to consider volunteering. Beyond being a great low-cost activity, volunteering can be very rewarding—both for the recipients of your efforts and for you personally.

While volunteering can be an opportunity for you to use your acquired dental skills and experience—and while there is great need for dental services both domestically and internationally—it can also be an opportunity to get away from dentistry if your personal life could use a little space. There is tremendous need for volunteers of all types, so don’t get locked into thinking that your only contribution is with your dental tools. Check out a list of local or national charity organizations to see what the needs are, and find one that matches up with the area of service you’re most interested in.

If, on the other hand, you are interested in using your career training there are a few things to consider:

Stick Around. There are many local needs for dental care and information, including such organizations as Give Kids a Smile, Missions of Mercy, and Donated Dental Services, among many, many more. Volunteering close to home can further the sense of community with your fellow local residences, and it can easily fit into a busy schedule. Talk to some of the local schools about visiting to speak to children about the importance of brushing. The ADA website includes a ton of links to volunteer activities, and most municipalities have their own websites that list areas of need.

Pack a Bag. If you are considering a longer commitment and a deeply immersed experience, there are a wealth of overseas opportunities waiting for someone like you. The ADA has a Health Volunteers Overseas Dental Education program that can match you up and provide the details on serving a community entirely different from your own. Other organizations have opportunities as well. Mercy Ships, for example, is “the world’s largest civilian hospital ship providing state-of-the-art care to those in desperate need—free of charge.” The organization runs a floating hospital that brings volunteer medical teams and sterile operating rooms directly to people who would otherwise go without care or receive substandard care.

When you first start researching volunteer opportunities, you may be overwhelmed by the number of options there are and the number of people who need help in some form or another. Don’t be. You won’t solve gum disease, world hunger, or adult illiteracy or any number of issues by volunteering. But you will almost certainly make a difference in someone’s life. That may, in turn, make a big difference in your life.

Start with a personal assessment of what’s important to you. Don’t think about just the potential scope of the volunteering task, but also the impact you can have, the time commitment it would take to make that impact, and whether there is a philosophical fit with the organization you’re considering.

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