Last winter, for the first time ever, we had foreign dentists meet our technicians, supervise them treating patients in the field, and assess their treatment outcomes. This has been an enormous opportunity for us as an organization and for our technicians who are working hard to provide the only dental care in their villages. This week, we had Dr. Keri back for a second training based on findings from last winter.
Our refresher training included two days of classroom work and a one-day treatment camp at a school. Keri covered topics related to infection control, pain diagnosis, pediatric behavior management, informed consent, treatment planning, and charting. Based on the results of our study of treatment outcomes in fillings placed by our technicians, we introduced a new instrument used to prepare a tooth for a restoration. On day two, we had a few patients come in for practicals, including Aidan and Pascal.
On day three, we treated about 100 children and adults with supervision from Keri and from Dr. Kafle from our referral hospital, Kantipur Dental Hospital. This gave the technicians and assistants a whole day to apply the concepts from the classroom training to many different types of patients. I was worried we might not have enough patients during summer vacation…but that was definitely not a problem.
Over this last year, I’ve realized how far JOHC has moved in to new territory in the oral health care world in Nepal, and really, in to the health care world generally. I’ve come to appreciate that our technicians are true specialists in low-resource dentistry, with training and institutional support that has allowed them to venture in to realms of sophistication not typically expected of providers serving the rural poor. I’ve always been committed to making sure their scope of practice remains safe and appropriate, and at the same time, I recognize that there’s been far less time and money invested in identifying how safe and how good a service can be when the customers are millions of people who cannot rely on reaching a conventional health care setting. Such questions are asked only from the perspective of established institutions and well-funded people in power; that this leads to widespread, unnecessary suffering for the vulnerable is very obvious.
The other side of the same coin is that it inadequate services can be easily excused because they fit a conventional mold. While Keri was here, we took time to visit the dental section of the public hospital. We met some great doctors, many of whom are only one or two steps removed from hospitals or people we work with. But they are working in an underfunded environment with rusted instruments; we observed numerous breaches of infection control in our short 20 minute visit. The sanitation and safety measures used in our rural clinics are significantly stronger than those we saw in the dental ward of the hospital, even though we are working in a much simpler setting. Why?
Something else that’s magical about this newfound opportunity for more training and collaboration is getting to know our field staff better, and as a group. Our clinic assistants – all women (also, on all of our teams, either the technician or team leader must be female) – are these incredible women who tend to listen quietly and then, with very little fanfare, make everything run smoothly. Without them our infection control protocol would be hash. They are always the first people to show up at a training or field program. Biju is raising four children and managed to complete the rice planting in her fields the day before she made the six hour trip to Pokhara from Sindure with her nine year old in tow. Renuka and Pabitra are always smiling, never miss a thing, and both have put in long stretches of work without pay while we straighten out agreements with their local governments. Sita is upbeat, diligent and ready to toggle between different roles without being asked. They are just SO AWESOME.
It was a good week.