Dental hygiene students on rotation to Vietnam

Delwyn Lee and Sonia Minhas

Delwyn Lee and Sonia Minhas

For close to two weeks during the winter holiday break in December 2015, Delwyn Lee and Sonia Minhas, both fourth-year students in the Dental Hygiene Degree Program, and faculty leader Sherry Priebe (MSc 2009, BDSc (DH) 2003), undertook a volunteer dental hygiene rotation to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This was the first opportunity, made possible by donors to the 2014 UBC Dentistry 50th Anniversary Fund, for global community service by dental hygiene students. Zul Kanji, director of the dental hygiene program, says, “Initiatives such as this strengthen students’ international service-learning experiences and foster global citizenship.”

scroll down for the slideshow photo editorial and student-presentation video

The students engaged enthusiastically in the ongoing collaborations between the University of British Columbia and several institutions in Ho Chi Minh City. They provided instruction and preventative care for oral cancer patients, presented seminars and demonstrations to students at a university, conducted oral cancer screenings, and provided oral hygiene care to children and staff at orphanages. Several cultural activities complemented their professional work, including a visit to a betel nut farming area.

Sherry Priebe

Sherry Priebe

For Sherry, who practises dental hygiene in Kelowna, BC, it was a return visit to a country where, from 2002 to 2009, she had conducted research in cultural risk habits regarding oral health and cancer. In 2010 she won the prestigious World Dental Hygienist Award in the research category. Her past work in the Southeast Asian country makes her not only an outstanding mentor for the students, but also a key professional in sustaining the oral health collaboration between UBC Dentistry and Vietnam’s National Hospital of Odonto-Stomatology, the Oncology Hospital and the University of Ho Chi Minh City.

Here are some nuggets of insight from each of the volunteers’ post-trip reports:

Sherry: It was a privilege to lead this outreach initiative. I am proud of Delwyn and Sonia as future colleagues; they inspired me in every aspect of this mission. As oral health professionals, we need to be aware of the challenges of people around the world and how we may assist them in improving their lives—especially so with increased global migration.

Delwyn: A moment that stands out—one that I often revisit—is walking through the overcrowded and not-air-conditioned Oncology Hospital, and seeing beds occupied by two to three patients battling advanced-stage cancer, many with tumours the size of a grapefruit. I realized then that although dental hygienists are not involved with treating such serious conditions, they play a significant role in the early identification of these complex and often fatal oral conditions. Coming from North America, I thought I would be able to contribute the wealth of knowledge I have acquired from my undergraduate program to this developing nation. However, while this trip allowed us to make a difference, I actually gained more than I could ever give.

Sonia: I was presented with invaluable learning opportunities: specifically, when providing dental hygiene care at the orphanages and during my observation visit at the Oncology Hospital. Delivering care to children living with disabilities who have been affected by Agent Orange allowed me to learn new client management techniques. And, witnessing the high prevalence of oral cancer patients in the Oncology Hospital exposed me to oral cancer manifestations that I would likely never have seen in Canada. My experience in Vietnam has enriched my knowledge and appreciation for health disparities in developing countries and has enhanced my assessment skills. As a developing health care professional, I find this invaluable when working with clients in Canada who may confront oral health disparities similar to those in Vietnam.

View a slideshow photo editorial to learn more about each of the volunteers’ experience:

Watch a video Delwyn Lee and Sonia Minhas presented to faculty members and fellow students about their rotation to Vietnam: