As part of their degree, Barts Dentistry students are required to take a module called Professionalism, Teamwork and Social Responsibility (PTSR) where students have to complete 10 hours of volunteering in the local community. The aim of this module is that Dentistry students will develop their self-awareness and awareness of others and enhance their leadership and communication skills, all with the goal that it will better prepare them for their future careers as Dentists.
Fifth Year student, Andrew, completed 90 hours of volunteering last year with the organisation Volunteering Matters. After some experience with volunteering here and there, Andrew wanted to put his time into doing a ‘more valuable project’ that had some true meaning to those that he was helping.
After completing the relevant training, Andrew was put in touch to befriend an elderly gentleman living in Aldgate. Having battled cancer and losing his wife to dementia, Neil* had had a tough last decade. Furthermore, Neil had mobility issues, making it hard for him to walk across the road to pop into the newsagents or the pub. Therefore he relied on Andrew’s help to do his weekly shopping and to run any errands, and most importantly to provide him with some company and someone to talk to, something which many elderly people lack nowadays.
When he initially signed up for this opportunity, Andrew says, “I expected to be able to gain skills in communicating with the elderly, a key group of patients as a dentist, as well as contribute to society from my privileged position as a dental student.” While he gained some confidence in communication, he felt that his feeling of playing an important role in the community greatly improved.
Volunteering in the local community as a befriender allowed Andrew to see the importance of being respectful and understanding of the wider needs of different members of the community, which is especially important as a Dentist. Additionally it gave him an appreciation of aspects that patients may struggle with or highly anticipate when visiting the Dentists. Andrew hopes to use this understanding and skill and apply it to dental situations and learn how to best treat elderly patients in the future.
Upon reflection, Andrew can say that as a befriender he has gained and developed many skills that will enhance his career prospects. Yet he didn’t visit Neil for several hours every week thinking about the skills he was using, but ultimately because Neil needed someone. “I am privileged to be able to visit him every week and listen to his many stories of the past, and help such a wonderful gentleman get by and enjoy life that little bit more. Having visited him weekly for the last year, I can no longer say I am doing this to get good experiences and improve my skills. I do this for Neil,” Andrew reflects.
*name has been changed