This blog post was written by Diana Boodram, Restoring Smiles 2019 Summer Student. 

This past June, I was fortunate enough to be hired as the first summer research student for the Restoring Smiles program. My role was to explore the impact of donated dental and oro-facial reconstructive services on the daily lives of survivors of domestic violence. I compiled and analyzed procedure codes, and integrated information from dental files, foundation notes, treatment reports, and interviews with patients and dental practitioners to help paint a picture of the total amount of services donated over the last 10 years.

I was eager to get involved with Restoring Smiles because, since starting dental school at U of T, I’ve come to learn about the many neglected populations unable to access dental care. Currently, little government funding is allocated toward making oral health care more accessible to all Canadians. Restoring Smiles is a program that addresses a very prevalent issue by catering to the needs of a group of women who’ve managed to escape some extremely difficult situations. This role helped me to fulfill an aspect of myself that I’d been missing, by allowing me to do impactful work that I feel passionate about.

It has been a great pleasure to work alongside, and learn from, Dr. Tina Meisami and the other founding members of the organization. I feel so fortunate to have been able to meet such strong, intelligent, and generous women, who demonstrate how you can use what you have to donate back to your community however you can. Joining the Restoring Smiles team also introduced me to Andrea Zeelie-Varga, the foundation’s Associate Director, as well as a handful of undergraduate student volunteers who are all incredibly passionate, talented, and dedicated. I believe that being surrounded by women I admire has allowed me to develop into an even better version of myself. 

While I’ve volunteered with non-profit organizations in the past, this was my first time working as an employee of one. The experience exposed me to plenty of the financial, legal, and logistical operations of a non-profit organization. I was surprised to discover just how large the program has grown from the dedicated efforts of a very small staff; it made me realize that so much of what we manage to accomplish is dependent on the generous donations of sponsors and volunteers—be it time, money, products, or services. 

Heading into the position, I knew that I’d be spending a lot of time combing through files to locate, organize, and analyze specific information. With 10 years of records to sort through, I had my work cut out for me! This translated into me spending many hours in front of the computer constructing multiple spreadsheets. What I didn’t expect was for Dr. Meisami to take a special interest in mentoring me. From my first week on the job, I was observing and assisting around the clinic and learning more about the oral surgery specialty. The entire staff at Yorkville Oral Surgery were patient and kind, and always willing to explain their techniques or demonstrate how things worked. This made the experience incredibly educational, which will no doubt prove beneficial as I enter into my third year of dental school.

Having grown to involve over 40 dental and medical practitioners in and around Toronto, liaising with the Restoring Smiles volunteer team has allowed me to meet numerous professionals in my field. On behalf of the organization, I found myself reaching out to former professors, as well as introducing myself to dentists and specialists I hadn’t met before. I also had the opportunity to visit a few different dental clinics, exposing me to unique set-ups and operations. It got me thinking about how I should be presenting myself and gave me some insight into how I might like to practice one day. I’m probably most appreciative of the many connections I was able to make through my involvement with the Restoring Smiles program.

Working with the Restoring Smiles program these last few months has undoubtedly become one of the most fulfilling experiences of my budding career. I have learned plenty and been able to develop unique new skills.  I have no doubt that my time working for the Restoring Smiles program has helped to shape me into a better practitioner and a better person.

Thank you to the Canada Summer Jobs program for making this possible.