Global Service Learning - Mexico

students pose in a picturesque plaza

Each year, IUSD travels to Mexico City with Dr. Armando Soto, faculty member and graduate of La Universidad Intercontinental (UIC) dental school. As a result, Dr. Soto is extremely familiar with the Mexican culture and customs and provides students with unmatched insight on differences in dental care between the US and Mexico. IUSD partners with UIC dental school, and IUSD students participate and provide preventative dental services at one of UIC’s outreach program sites for the first half of the trip. Later in the week, IUSD students work alongside UIC dental students in the school’s clinics by performing various preventative and emergency treatments. A unique aspect of this trip involves IUSD students assisting and providing services such as extractions or prophylaxis in pediatric and special needs clinics. As a whole, IUSD’s goal by partnering with UIC in Mexico City is to have bi-directional training and collaboration of health providers.

I went into this trip not knowing what to expect, as this was my first experience with global service learning. As a new D3, I figured I would be assigned more prophies and assisting duties. Thankfully, I was wrong. The clinic at Zacatlán had three chairs, which allowed the five students in our group to alternate as either the provider or assistant and all stay very busy. We spent three days in Zacatlán providing resin and glass ionomer restorations, simple extractions, cleanings, and a LOT of fluoride varnish applications to local residents for free. I would estimate that we treated around 25 patients each day, and applied fluoride varnish to roughly 200 people, including all of the children attending the school where the clinic is located. Initially I was apprehensive about providing dental care in the clinic, especially with my limited Spanish vocabulary, but I gained confidence with each patient experience. Between Dr. Soto, Dr. Juan Carlos (the clinic director/dentist), and Sergio and Sebastian (two recently-graduated dentists completing their time of service in the clinic) we were closely supervised and able to provide quality care to the best of our ability. This dentist to student ratio was great—anytime I had a question, somebody was right there! Everyone we met in Zacatlán was very welcoming. Each day we were served a traditional Mexican breakfast and lunch in the school cafeteria. It was great to step out of my comfort zone and try new foods that I wouldn’t normally think to order.


After our time at Zacatlán, we returned to Mexico City and spent some time at [UIC]. We met some faculty, toured the school, attended a lecture given by Dr. Soto, provided prophies, and assisted their students in the clinic. It was very interesting seeing the differences between their school and IUSD. They have much smaller class sizes—I believe it was 13 students per class. Their clinics are arranged in circles, with the foot of each patient chair towards the center where faculty can sit and oversee. I admire their faculty to student ratio and the fact that “undergrad” students are allowed to take on much more advanced cases than we are exposed to here. I assisted a third-year student with an endo case where faculty essentially stayed with her throughout the whole treatment, walking her through a technique that the student hadn’t officially been taught in lab yet, just because that was what was best for the patient. Next, I assisted a fourth-year student who was delivering an eight-unit fixed partial denture. While I know I am getting a quality education at IUSD, it was a little disheartening to realize that our students aren’t getting those kinds of experiences here.

 students care for patients in a local clinic

Apart from dentistry, this trip provided a broader view into the history and culture of Mexico. Dr. Soto was an excellent tour guide. Our first full day in Mexico, we stopped to tour the pyramids and museum at Teotihuacán on our way to Zacatlan. In Mexico City we toured different areas, churches, and plazas including Coyoacán, Santo Domingo, El Bazaar Sábadoin San Ángel, and the historic center of Mexico City. Mexico City is huge and there is so much history preserved there. I loved seeing all the art and greenery throughout the city. This trip far exceeded all of my expectations and was an incredible experience. At school we get so caught up in passing tests, checking off requirements, and making sure that documentation is perfect that it takes away from what we are really here to do—provide care to people who need it. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to provide much needed dental care and to experience this culture.

Alisa Fabiano