September 21, 2023, KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Ten students and two instructors from Oregon Tech’s dental hygiene program in Klamath Falls traveled to Whitehouse, Jamaica, this summer to provide dental care to underserved populations in rural areas.
The trip was part of the International Externship Program (IEP), which provides students the opportunity to travel outside the United States and deliver dental care in nontraditional settings and within new cultures. Rural sites were selected by Great Shape! Inc., a non-profit organization that empowers children and families of Jamaica and the Caribbean by providing access to education and health care. Clinics were set up in community buildings and churches.
At Oregon Tech’s Klamath Falls campus, students in the dental hygiene program participate in a yearlong course to provide dental assistance to Klamath County, but the IEP trip expands learning to a diverse cultural setting and a variety of situations including extreme heat, old equipment, and long bus rides to the sites on rough, narrow roads. The skills learned during the IEP trip benefit students in future work settings such as public health, dental missions, rural health, and mobile dentistry.
The 2023 IEP student team members were Kyra Mull, Juhee Lee, Sophie Wilson, Abigayle Wilson, Michelle Fairchild, Mackenna Smith, Jordan Walter, Kelsie Collins, Rosalia Olivera, and Trisha Vieira. Faculty instructors coordinating and traveling with the students were Brooke Keffer and Jeannie Bopp. Also participating was Kade Hutchins, a 2022 graduate who was part of last year’s IEP team. Each student raises the funding for their trip through private funding, donations, and fundraising events; the average cost per student was approximately $2,700.
“The people of Jamaica were extremely grateful and appreciative of any care they received,” said Bopp. “There is one dentist per 17,000 people in Jamaica and in rural areas, access adds to the discrepancy in dental care. Through this trip, students experienced the power of compassion, teamwork, and giving of their knowledge and skills to change the lives of others less fortunate. They will be amazing leaders upon graduation as they apply this experience to their own communities.”
“Jamaica will always have a special place in my heart,” said senior Kelsie Collins. “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where we got to serve over 1,000 patients in need. Blessed is an understatement.”