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Dental students start Remote Area Medical chapter to help underserved people

by Julie Heflin, HSC communications and marketing last modified Jun 24, 2010 08:23 AM

About 175 faculty, students and staff from the dental and medical schools at the University of Louisville volunteered their weekend June 19-20 to provide free health care to nearly 1,000 people in and around Pikeville, Ky.

Dental students start Remote Area Medical chapter to help underserved people

Volunteers give free dental treatment with RAM-Kentucky in Pikeville.

Patients camped out in their cars overnight and lined up early to take advantage of the opportunity provided by Remote Area Medical (RAM)-Kentucky. School of Dentistry volunteers alone saw more than 600 patients over the two days. The UofL group helped pull 1,161 teeth,  provide 269 fillings and perform 131 teeth cleanings.

This is the third consecutive year members of the UofL community have joined with other health care providers to create a successful event at Pike County Central High School. It’s the second year dental student Caroline Curtis has been to Pikeville.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, which is why I’m so passionate about it,” Curtis said.

Curtis had plans to do mission work in Africa or South America. She said she realized after her first RAM experience, that she could make a difference in Kentucky because there are so many people in the state without access or the ability to pay for health care.

Her first RAM event in 2009 so inspired her that she and five other dental students have taken part in other RAM clinics since then in such places as Letcher County, Ky., and Maryville and Maynardsville, Tenn.

Now they are building the RAM presence at UofL.

With the encouragement of Bill Collins, the UofL dental alumnus who coordinates RAM-Kentucky, they started the country’s first student RAM chapter.

Dental student Farzan Pouranfar used his experience as an undergraduate starting an Iranian student organization to guide the students through the application process for a student organization, and the UofL Student Government Association approved the application this spring. Already RAM ULSD (short for UofL School of Dentistry) has about 45 members.

“The RAM events help prepare me for my career,” Pouranfar said. “It’s wonderful hands-on experience. I love interacting with these patients who really need our help.”

RAM ULSD wants to increase student awareness and involvement in the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. The group has already begun plans to host a RAM benefit dinner in February.

But its influence has spread beyond UofL.

Pouranfar said he’s already heard from dental students in New York who want to learn how to create their own RAM student chapter.

RAM is a national effort to provide free health care in underserved areas such as Appalachia. Stan Brock, one of Marlin Perkins’ assistants in the old TV show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” started the program 24 years ago in Knoxville, Tenn.

The program offers free medical exams and education in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cholesterol, breast and cervical cancer and other areas; dental cleanings, fillings and extractions; and eye exams and free glasses. It expanded into Kentucky in 2008.

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