I participated in the 2011 Great Shape! Project in Jamaica. This was my first ‘medical mission’ outside of the United States. My role as a nurse included working with a team of dentists, dental hygienists and other volunteers. (My experience with dentists prior to this trip was as a patient – usually attempting to visualize myself anywhere but in that chair !). Our group was together as a team for one week. I found the experience so rewarding that I am planning on returning in 2012 – and hope to recruit more nurses and staff to join this project.
The people we served had much in common with many lower-income, under-served Americans. They were desperate for medical and dental care and wanted to find a solution to the pain, discomfort and limitations they were experiencing due to their health issues. The critical difference the Jamaicans faced was that they did not have access to dental care and very limited access to health care. The rural areas where Great Shape! Inc establishes clinics have 1 dentist for every 100,000 people. Dental care and hygiene are almost unheard of for most Jamaicans. With poor dental care comes many health and economic challenges. I recall a directive given by a seasoned dentist to the group during orientation – ‘make saving the front teeth a priority”. A person had a chance at employment if they had their front teeth intact and without major cavities. The reason being that tourism is the major industry of Jamaica and visitors prefer the staff at the resorts to have bright, beaming smiles. At the Sandals Resort that served as our base camp (WOW!) I was often by employees who wanted to thank the organization for saving their front teeth – and teaching him or her good dental hygiene. The stories were always very similar… thanks to having a presentable mouth and smile they were able to work at the resort. Most often these Sandal employees explained that they were supporting parents, assisting siblings and other relatives with their education and saving for their own future.
The nurse role as a team member was diverse. I performed blood pressure and diabetic screening, made referrals if appropriate, provided education related to the screenings, nutrition and post-op care, medication dispersement, assisted with dental triage and various other tasks to assist the team. Adaptability, flexibility and autonomy are key traits for any team member – especially the nurse. I found my experience in Jamaica with Great Shape! Inc. exhilarating, challenging and rewarding. I look forward to Fall 2012 and my return to Jamaica