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Published in CenterView on November 25, 2013
Senior dental hygiene student Caitlin Penzien, left, and Sandra Horne, associate professor of dental hygiene, inspect a patient’s X-ray.
Senior dental hygiene student Caitlin Penzien, left, and Sandra Horne, associate professor of dental hygiene, inspect a patient’s X-ray.

Jackson Free Clinic incorporates dental hygiene into growing list of services

By Matt Westerfield

It was her first time volunteering at the Jackson Free Clinic, and senior dental hygiene student GeAnna Wilson soaked it all in.

Along with four other senior dental hygiene students from the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Health Related Professions, Wilson spent a recent Saturday providing oral care for some of Jackson’s neediest patients.

But she wasn’t there only to serve others. The additional benefit, she said, was the chance to learn and to build confidence at a clinic run entirely by UMMC students.

“It’s a good learning experience,” said Wilson, in between patients on Nov. 16. “You get to see different kinds of patients that we wouldn’t get to see in our clinic.”

Wilson and her classmates, who began working at the clinic this semester, represent the newest addition to the student-run clinic, which continues to grow since reopening after an expansion and renovation last November. The clinic exposes new students every semester to the challenges of serving an uninsured population.

“The clinic mission is two-fold: The main part is to serve the underserved patients of the Jackson area, and the second part of our mission statement is to educate the students of UMMC,” said Savannah Duckworth, a fourth-year medical student and current medical director of the clinic. “It started as a medical student-run clinic only, and then we started thinking that we really need to take care of our patients’ teeth and to take care of them if they’ve been injured at work and they can’t go to therapy.”

The clinic opened in 2000 with support from School of Medicine faculty and community physicians. After its renovation, made possible by a donation from Health Management Associates Inc., occupational and physical therapy students and faculty from SHRP began volunteering last fall to offer rehabilitation services. At the same time, students from the School of Dentistry began operating in two of the clinic’s nine exam rooms.

Dr. Cindy Scott, professor of physical therapy, and third-year PT student Clarence Holmes review a patient’s chart.
Dr. Cindy Scott, professor of physical therapy, and third-year PT student Clarence Holmes review a patient’s chart.

“Initially, we just had dental students coming every other week, so their rooms were closed two Saturdays out of the month,” Duckworth said. “Then they increased it so they’re coming three Saturdays out of the month, but there’s still one Saturday they’re not here.

“So the dental hygiene students approached us and said, ‘We’d love to help out.’ It’s been a great interaction.”

Beckie Barry, chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene, said she knew there were SHRP programs involved with the clinic, and when she heard there were dental exam rooms available, she thought it was a good opportunity for her students.

The senior dental hygiene class elected two representatives, Kirstie Campbell and Haley Garrett, to be on the Jackson Free Clinic Committee and to serve as liaisons between the class and the committee, Barry said.

“I worked with them initially to get the clinic started, i.e., supplies and protocol, but the students have been doing the work,” Barry said. “They have the opportunity to provide a service to a clientele in need and to interact with other disciplines and to share their knowledge about oral health to them.”

On Wilson’s first day volunteering at the clinic, the students performed health history reviews, extra and intraoral cancer examinations, radiograph exposures and oral hygiene instructions and created potential treatment plans under the helpful guidance of faculty members Sandra Horne and Angie Garner. Those plans then were approved by Dr. Mitch Hutto, assistant professor of dentistry, who volunteers at the clinic to provide oversight for dental hygiene and dentistry students.

The volume of patients visiting the clinic presents a time challenge for the dental hygiene students. For that reason, patients are often referred to Mission First, a nonprofit organization in West Jackson that offers free medical and dental care.

Mission First is one of many community care clinics where medical and dentistry students perform clinical rotations.

“I think that this clinic, for hygienists, is a way to get people informed about why taking care of your mouth and teeth really can improve overall health,” Garrett said. “Also, I have lived in the Jackson-metro area my whole life, and I wanted a way to be able to give back to a community that has a special place in my heart.”

Duckworth said faculty and residents from ob-gyn volunteer at least once a semester. She said the Department of Ophthalmology has moved equipment into one of the exam rooms and soon will begin screening patients for glaucoma.

Duckworth has been volunteering at the clinic since her first year of medical school.

“I was really amazed at the patient interaction with the students,” she said. “They were so grateful for all of the services. None of the patients have insurance, but they still view the students as their doctors taking care of them, and they really open up to us and tell us what’s really going on with their health care and their lives.”

Having volunteers from several different disciplines under one roof also affords students the chance to learn from one another, said Jennifer Nanny, a third-year occupational therapy student who directs the rehab portion of the clinic.

“One of our missions is to try to educate each other on what we do and why we’re so important to the entire health-care team as a whole,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest advantages of this clinic.”