More than 40 University of Florida dental students volunteered to learn how to perform head and neck cancer screenings recently as a first step toward heading into the field to conduct free screenings for some at-risk groups in the community. The local American Association of Public Health Dentistry (AAPHD) extended an invitation to students from all classes to participate.
Under the direction of Pamela Sandow, D.M.D., and Nery Clark, D.M.D., these students learned what pre-cancerous lesions look like and how to find them. Once they finish training, the students will visit communities in North Florida and conduct free screenings for some of the most at-risk groups of people in the area as part of a NIH-funded research project headed by the Southeast Center for Research to Reduce Disparities in Oral Health.
“We’re pleasantly surprised by the level of participation (from the students),” Sandow said. The students will receive community service credit for their work in the clinics, but they will not receive any sort of academic credits. The student volunteers take a pre-test and post-test to determine whether the method of training is effective.”
The students say that they wanted to take advantage of additional hands-on training.
“It’s one thing to learn about it in class,” said first-year dental student Andrew Corsaro. “It’s another thing to actually get out and do it.”
During the training sessions, students acted as both patient and dentist, practicing their newly developed screening skills on each other.
“We couldn’t be happier to have so many talented students on board for this project,” said Henrietta Logan, Ph.D, director of the Southeast Center for Research to Reduce Disparities in Oral Health. “It’s a win-win situation. The students get additional hands-on training, and the patients get a screening that could save their life.”
With the motto, “Taking the bite out of head and neck cancer,” the center aims to reduce disparities in oral health among Florida’s rural populations through research and intervention projects based on the best science available and community participation. Local residents are involved in all phases, from designing research to collecting data to publicizing results and influencing public policy. With the combined forces of scientific expertise and community involvement, the center’s goal is to eliminate disparities in head and neck cancer prevention, detection, and survival.