ISL and the ADEA

“Guidelines for Pre-dental Students Providing Patient Care During Clinical Experiences Abroad”

Who is ISL? ISL, or International Service Learning, is an NGO providing annual health care assistance for over 300,000 of the underserved in ten countries.  For over sixteen years ISL has been the leading provider of programs which ethically combines service and learning for both undergrad and graduate health care students.  ISL has earned an excellent reputation among both educators in the U.S. and health agencies in the international arena.  ISL also provides pre-dental students with programming options that are compliant with the ADEA Guidelines.

ISL and the ADEA ISL was contacted by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) earlier this year to discuss issues involving the extent to which pre-dental students could or should be involved in hands-on experiences in the field.  The Executive Director of ISL, Michael Birnbaum, has been invited to serve on a panel of presenters at the ADEA conference in March, 2011.  While the ADEA neither endorses nor certifies independent international programs, ADEA representatives have expressed gratitude to ISL for their willingness to make appropriate programming available for pre-dental students.

ISL Responses to ADEA Guidelines

  • Harm done to the patient and physical harm to yourself: ISL absolutely endorses the need for students to understand the importance of a “patient comes first” approach to field health care and the need to maintain high standards of student protection. Our in-country staff includes the best dental practitioners and instructors available.
  • Legal issues with local authorities: ISL operates in full partnership with government health officials in the countries we serve.  There is never any danger of ISL students being “illegal”.  Other orgs who imitate us and smaller groups sponsored by professors “doing their own program” continually endanger their students in this way.  ISL is the ONLY NGO specifically approved by the legislative body of Nicaragua to provide health care programming for pre-health students in conjunction with the Nicaragua Health Ministry.
  • Putting your acceptance to professional schools at risk: Regarding dental school applicants, students should be neither automatically admitted nor automatically rejected by dental schools because they have chosen to participate in a global health experience which is radically different from the experiences they have in the U.S.  While we understand why dental schools and the ADEA have raised this issue for discussion, we believe there are a number of ways to ensure that students have safe, quality experiences in developing nations.  We commend ADEA for remaining open minded about these experiences.
  • The potential for being involved with a fraudulent company: Students and pre-dental orgs do need to be careful to deal ONLY with organizations with a positive, long term track record, such as ISL. ISL continually receives compliments from NAAHP advisors and receives hundreds of recommendations from students and faculty.  The program fees we collect are used for our service projects (health care for 300,000 annually!) and programming overhead.
ISL response to “pre-dental students considering participating in an international dental service experience should review the following”:
  • The degree to which a student assists in the provision of dental treatment is a continuum of experience dependent on many factors, including, as noted in the ADEA Guidelines, a student’s previous health training and experience.  We support the principle that pre-dental students should not be acting as practitioners of dentistry in and of themselves.  However, it needs to be understood that dentists and doctors trained in other cultures are accustomed to the predominant model of international health education, which is very much an experiential methodology (hands-on from day one).  As such, their approach to teaching ISL students is a very closely supervised, hands-on process.  HOWEVER, no ISL student is ever expected to do anything more than observe.  It is the students’ responsibility to choose their level of involvement in all supervised learning activities.
  • Predental students should absolutely be involved with serving the underserved in their own country.  But it would be totally out of touch with reality to not understand the huge magnitude of difference in the level of need between underserved persons in the U.S. and those in developing countries.  ISL is a leader in efforts to create innovative programs that are examples of “entrepreneurial humanitarianism” at its best.  The world is in desperate need of more ISL-type programs.
  • We applaud the ADEA in being proactive by assisting pre-dental students in evaluating what kinds of international dental service learning experiences are appropriate.  ISL stands ready to partner with all organizations willing to come together and work out the administrative “give and take” that will be necessary to make progress in providing appropriate and effective dental care for the millions of persons around the world without access to such care.

If you were completely without access to dental care in a developing country, and you or one of your loved ones was in critical need of such care, wouldn’t it be an incredible relief to find out that an ISL dental team was coming to your village (financed by student fees and donations) complete with trained dentists, medicines, and equipment?!  Come join us in making this possible….