Meharry Medical College's new mobile dental unit, obtained through a partnership with the Black College Fund, administered by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), is enabling students to further Meharry's long-held mission of providing care for underserved and uninsured people.
The 65-foot mobile unit operated by Meharry's School of Dentistry traveled across Tennessee from Nashville to Memphis during its first five months, providing oral health care to almost 400 youth who reside in seven state-supported facilities.
"I can remember the faces of those kids and how they were just super happy that we were there," said Alexis Bryant, a fourth-year dental student from New Orleans, who was on the unit's inaugural assignment in February to a Youth Villages facility in Bartlett, Tennessee.
In two days Bryant, four other students and two faculty members provided oral health care for 60 youth.
|The Meharry Medical College mobile dental clinic allows supervised student dentists to provide care in underserved areas. Photo courtesy of Meharry Medical College.|
"Being at a black college, I think you have a yearning to help your community and help those that came before you," Bryant said. "If you see that a community is underrepresented or underserved, most of us feel like we have a duty because doctors, especially black doctors, are not as common as we would like them to be."
Cynthia Bond Hopson, assistant general secretary for Black College Fund and Ethnic Concerns at GBHEM, said, "the fund provides tools and money, and recipients like Meharry decide on the project. Supporting a project like the mobile dental unit is not just important to the Black College Fund, it is important to the world."
"This is such a powerful opportunity for us to improve people and their communities all at the same time," Hopson said. "When you have the confidence – the smile – and go out into the world, you are much more likely to get a great job, or you are much more likely to feel confident enough to follow your dreams."
The United Methodist Church, through the Black College Fund, supports 11 black colleges, the largest number of historically black colleges and universities of any denominational body in the United States. Approximately 16,000 students are enrolled in the schools.
The ultimate goal of the mobile dental program is to provide comprehensive care and needed oral health services in various areas where there is a shortage of health professionals and where populations have economic challenges.
Bryant says she and her classmates want to have "that feeling of being a value to someone else, not just doing things for yourself, but for the benefit of others."
"It's a very warm feeling to know that you're helping someone who might not get the help otherwise and to know that they want us to be there. Even after an exhausting day (in Bartlett) we were thinking we should do this more often," Bryant said.
General Board of Higher Education and Ministry website
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Black College Fund provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities at 11 United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Black College Fund apportionment at 100 percent.