Table of Contents

Practice Building
View Point
Continuing Education

Inside Dentistry

March 2010, Volume 6, Issue 3
Published by AEGIS Communications

The Stony Brook Experience

Service-learning through dental outreach programs offers a range of patient/educational experiences in a variety of cultural and environmental settings.

Mary Trulhar, DDS, MS; David Krause, PhD; Dan Colosi, DDS, PhD; Dolores Cannella, PhD; Steven London, DDS, PhD

Service-learning, an approach to education that ties community service to classroom instruction and reflection, has been shown to contribute to student success and has a positive impact on social behavior, habits, and attitudes. According to the Institute of International Education,1 the number of US college students studying abroad increased almost 70% from the academic year of 1999–2000 to that of 2006–2007, from about 144,000 students to nearly 242,000.

These data indicate that a growing number of dental students are arriving at our institutions with an understanding that “service-learning,” as well as immersion in a foreign environment, provides the opportunity for unparalleled personal and professional growth experiences. During the admissions process at Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, it is becoming increasingly evident that many prospective students perceive these experiences as a desirable part of their education in an increasingly global society; the potential of participating in institution-supported externship programs during their years of professional training has become highly attractive.

As an institution, Stony Brook University’s School of Dental Medicine has a 10-year history of recognized commitment to “service-learning,” with successful outreach programs offering a range of patient/educational experiences in a variety of cultural and environmental settings in Madagascar, Chile, and Kenya, as well as to the indigenous peoples on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of South Dakota. Last year, we supported an unprecedented 50% of our Year III dental students in international and national 2- to 4-week clinical outreach programs with faculty from Stony Brook University, both within and outside the dental school, as well as in collaboration with other dental schools both within and outside the United States. Among the many positive attributes related to our provision of dental care to people of unfamiliar cultures, oftentimes under “field” conditions in some of the most destitute and remote regions of the world, are the following: educational enrichment through eye-opening and life-impacting personal experiences for both students and faculty; professional experiences that are not readily obtainable in the dental school; public relations value for the dental school and institution as a whole; recruiting tools for prospective students; value for participating students in obtaining desired postdoctoral residency positions; unique research opportunities for both students and faculty; and bonding experiences that would not otherwise be possible.

As the School addresses curricular reorganization, we have a unique opportunity, owing to our small class sizes, to incorporate meaningful “service-learning” as an educational requirement for graduation for all of our students. This change will require careful consideration to ensure the continued development of sustainable programs and the addition of relevant learning objectives. Batson et al2 delineated four ideals that motivate an individual, and for that matter an institution, to participate in community service: egoism—to increase one’s own welfare or feeling of well-being; altruism—to increase the welfare of another; collectivism—to increase the welfare of a group; and principlism—to uphold moral principles.They proposed that the most promising strategies are those that appeal to either altruism or collectivism and combine with an appeal to principles. Therefore, in our efforts to develop a more comprehensive and meaningful international, national, and community service-learning curriculum, the focus will be on the concepts of altruism, collectivism, and principlism. The programs will be structured to provide immediate dental services to a community while establishing a transfer of knowledge between healthcare providers, native dental programs, and institutions, resulting in a better understanding of the issues relevant to oral health and disease and overall wellness of the population. To establish a long-lasting impact, we will continue to develop and enhance collaborations with local and international dental institutions, dental students and educators, and local healthcare programs. These will be modeled after our currently successful alliances with the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Connecticut, Institut d’Odonto-Stomatologie Tropicale de Madagascar, Facultad de Odontología de la Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile, the School of Dental Sciences at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and the Indian Health Service.

Concerns related to students spending time away from the school’s curriculum and clinics, thus missing weeks of educational time and loss of a productive student’s income, must be addressed. The development of service-learning requirements for graduation that include participation in a range of experiences including organized “local” outreach opportunities, in addition to the national and international outreach programs, will facilitate the success of this undertaking. Educational requirements can be addressed by crediting the procedural experiences obtained through involvement in outreach programs. In addition, future class size increases will take into consideration the concept of a service-learning curriculum, thus facilitating the attainment of educational goals and the efficient structuring of clinical operations.

International and national missions are not without significant annual recurring expenses. The involvement of students, faculty, and alumni in fundraising is a vital part these endeavors as they serve as a source of financial support as well as a team-building platform for the mission members. However, the critical element that has allowed us to undertake the establishment of a service-learning curriculum is the commitment of the dental school’s administration, the genuine and heartfelt receptivity and involvement of host countries, communities, and institutions, and the generosity of individual, federal agency, and corporate support.


1. Infocus. University Continuing Education Association. 2009;14(2):3.

2. Batson CD, Ahmad N, Tsang J. Soc Issues. 2002;58(3):429-445.

About the Authors

Mary Trulhar, DDS, MS
Associate Professor and Chair of General Dentistry
Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine
Stony Brook, New York

David Krause, PhD
Distinguished Service Professor of Anatomical Sciences
Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine
Stony Brook, New York

Dan Colosi, DDS, PhD
Assistant Professor
Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine
Stony Brook, New York

Dolores Cannella, PhD
Assistant Professor
Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine
Stony Brook, New York

Steven London, DDS, PhD
London is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Acting Chair of Oral Biology and Pathology
Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine
Stony Brook, New York