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Hispanic Student Dental Association Recognized for Outreach

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Written by Adam Zewe

The University of Maryland School of Dentistry's (UMSOD) chapter of the Hispanic Student Dental Association (HSDA) has been named 2013 National Student Chapter of the Year. One of 34 student chapters across the country, the UMSOD group was recognized for its exceptional leadership, advocacy and service to the Hispanic community in Maryland.

President Richard Duarte, DDS '15, is proud that his chapter was honored. He says the award underscores the important oral health services that HSDA students provide. Volunteer students perform dental screenings and provide oral hygiene instructions at Hispanic-oriented outreach events, such as Latino Provider Network health fairs. By offering instruction and pamphlets in both English and Spanish, HSDA students serve as reassuring voices for many patients. "We try to put ourselves in our patients' shoes. If someone speaks my language, I know I would feel much more comfortable and be more likely to trust that person," remarks Duarte.

He expects outreach activities to become even more important as the Hispanic population continues to grow. The Hispanic population in Maryland has doubled over the past decade to nearly 500,000 people. Of those Hispanics, 41 percent do not speak English well, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "The school is such a great resource for the Hispanic community. We can make a huge impact locally," Duarte states.

The HSDA recently provided dental screenings for 90 elementary school students at Baltimore's Wolfe Street Academy. Lauren Aguilar, DDS '15, said the event was especially important because it shed light on an underserved Hispanic population in the heart of Baltimore. "The most rewarding thing for me was to see how eager the kids were to have a dental check up," she states.

Alexandra Hernandez, DDS '15, says that volunteering with the HSDA has given her a strong desire to advocate for the needs of Maryland's Hispanic population. She enjoyed interacting with the kids at Wolfe Street, some of whom only spoke Spanish. "It was so rewarding to be able to give them a positive experience," Hernandez remarks.

The HSDA also teaches its members practical skills. The group hosts lunch and learns where students review Spanish words and phrases that are important in a clinical setting. Students do not need to speak Spanish to join the HSDA. Many new members enjoy the opportunity to receive advice and tips from more-experienced peers, Duarte says. He is excited that the group has grown to include 100 members. "For me, as a Hispanic, it is important to promote awareness of the Hispanic population throughout the school. I think it's been a real eye-opener for students," he states.


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