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UAlbany Students Extract a Real-World Experience 

March 16, 2009



UAlbany student Reena Patel assists dentist.

UAlbany student Reena Patel gains valuable experience in the field of dentistry. 

UAlbany students Reena Patel, Mariam Sharifipour, and Christopher Theall saw firsthand on a trip to Mexico how having access to good dental care is not taken for granted in other parts of the world.

Patel, a human biology major, and Sharifipour and Theall, biology majors, are all prehealth students. Sharifipour is president of the Pre-Dental Club at UAlbany. An e-mail went out to prehealth students informing them of the opportunity to go on a mission trip with local dentists Jan. 30-Feb. 5.

"This trip created a pathway for my career and gave me an experience of a lifetime; it showed me the skills and work I need to do and work hard for in order to pursue a career in dentistry," said Patel, of Auburn, N.Y. "Also it taught me how lucky I am to be living in the conditions I live in, because not everyone gets that luxury."

Sharifipour, a native of Orange County, Calif., is already a licensed dental hygienist. "This field is pretty much what I know best and what I love," she said. After graduation in May, she plans to work for a year, take more mission trips, and then apply to dental school. "I cannot imagine myself doing anything different. It is my passion. The towns we visited are very remote and poor. Having a dentist or access to dental care is not an option for these people, let alone dental insurance or coverage," Sharifipour said.

UAlbany student Mariam Sharifipour assists the dentist.

The group worked with borrowed instruments to treat more than 100 patients.

Theall said the trip was a great opportunity in two ways: He had the chance to assist in many dental procedures and learn more about the field, while giving medical treatment on a missionary trip, something he has always wanted to do.

The group faced obstacles, including having $12,000 worth of dental instruments confiscated as they entered Mexico. The equipment has not yet been returned. In addition, hot water and electricity were in short supply.

"Our working conditions were not easy," said Sharifipour.

The group went to several small villages, including San Luis, with Barry Loffredo, DDS, and Donald Deluke, DDS, both of Schenectady, N.Y. "These three students came together and worked as a team. They were a tremendous asset to the mission of the trip," said Loffredo.

"For meeting two students that I barely knew, and working with two dentists that I have never actually worked with you would think that we were working together for years," said Patel, adding, "Beyond the hardships that we faced to perform our journey, we all have never laughed so hard on a trip in our lives."

Sharifipour said the most compelling part of the experience for her was the appreciation shown by their patients. "They thanked us with a fiesta on our last day of work. They invited us back next year," she said.

St. Helen's Church of Schenectady assisted with the cost of transportation from Albany to JFK, as well as room, board, and travel insurance.


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