Skip to main content

2015 Jamaica Dental Outreach Program Part 4: Stories from the Clinic

By September 12, 2015June 27th, 2023DMC News & Events, Michael's Operatory, Outreach

This is a follow up to my two previous blogs about our 2015 Jamaica Dental Outreach Program. I’ve written five blogs about our trip, and you can read them here: (1) Mission Accomplished + New Mission, (2) PICS from the Week, (3) What Transpired, (4) Stories From The Clinic, (5) Final Thoughts.

Monday: here we go!

Each morning typically started off the same: wake up, eat breakfast together as a team, get a daily briefing from Great Shape! Inc. staff, get your supplies, and off to the clinic to do some good/hard work!

That first day was special. We were with our team for the first time. On a mission (literally)…

Now, people who know me will say that I talk a lot about team building and brand building. I’ve written about team building here, here, here and here. Team building typically involves things like: sharing a common philosophy about who we are and what are trying to be, understanding each team member’s role and responsibilities, empowering team members, always being on the hunt for talent, motivating your team (e.g. through goal setting, caring about them, etc.), and understanding the different personalities of your team and even hiring based on that, etc.

So… what do you do when you’re teamed up with a bunch of strangers and you’re charged with doing something you’ve never done before (namely, run a dental clinic in a hot environment with a huge demand and limited supplies and equipment)? Simple: you start off establishing a team.

Team Building 101: Use DISC!

In my opinion, the first thing you want to try to do is select roles for the right individuals/personality types. My role was that of “patient intake”, although I also played other roles – like mob control, sterilizer, dental assistant and photographer. My role required a “D” personality (this makes sense to those who know their DISC personality profiles) – someone who can take charge and make the clinic work. We had Signe doing sterilization; in my opinion, she was an “S” for “steady”, which was perfect for that role (detail oriented; highly structured; not requiring the limelight or too much interaction with others). We had a pair of hygienists – Melissa and Stacieanne – who were clearly “I “s, which stands for “Influencers”; they were always happy yapping, hugging, smiling. Very bubbly individuals!

We had some more D’s in the group – namely, dentists and assistants. At one point, we were calling Dr. Sylvie Dagenais “Dr. D” because she has a strong personality type (being from Gatineau helps make you that way, I guess?) but she’s so amazing and comprehensive with patients – especially frightened children (her specialty). And we also had some quieter and more detail-oriented dentists and assistants who would be “C” personality types (“C” stands for “Conscientious”; they love the details and are highly organized).

So what’s my point here? Just make sure that you have the right personality type for each job. Make sure you have enough of each personality type. And teach your individual team members to accommodate different personality types to help avoid conflicts. We use DISC in this manner at DMC LLP and it’s a best practice among our dentist clients (they do it for both their staff and patients).


Now that we had a team, we needed to brand ourselves. I’ve written extensively on branding here for example (just keep scrolling down and going onto more pages). Branding typically involves things like strategizing about creating a unique and memorable brand that will spread socially (by making sure it is cool, emotionally based, full of triggers, contains practice benefits, pushes private acts into the public sphere, and has a story attached to it). Then it needs to be put in the hands of well-connected individuals, mavens, and salespeople who are team members, clients, and centres of influence.

On our way down to the clinic, I figured we needed a team name. After a few failed attempts, I suggested we call ourselves “Triple P” and that “P” would stand for Punctual, Positive Attitude, and Party. “Punctual” came from some of our group members not being on time for orientation. “Positive Attitude” came from the idea that we were here in Jamaica, helping others and that no matter what, we would always remember that (ONE LOVE!). And obviously, when you work hard, you like to Party hard too. That’s where Beaches Resort came into play.

The name “Triple P” was instantly and universally accepted. We even had a chant that went something like this:

What’s Our Team Name?    TRIPLE P!
What’s The First “P” Stand For? Punctual! Because We Arrive “On Time!”
Throughout The Day, We Have a “Positive Attitude”
And When We’re Done, We Love to “PARTY!!!”
TRIPLE P ON 3: 1, 2, 3…TRIPLE P!!!!

Now just picture us screaming and yelling this every day – particularly early in the morning just when everyone is on the bus trying to get some rest / recovery from the previous day.

Now, while other teams came up with their own team name, the “Triple P” brand really took off. It even developed it’s own hand gesture:

To do the gesture, you have to do a “One Love” with your right hand (just stick out your index finger with a straight arm) and then formulate a backwards “P” with your left hand (three fingers up; all other fingers hidden) so that the person viewing you can see a P with three fingers held up above it.

We eventually created a cocktail named “Triple P” (small amount of simple syrup, gin, soda and lime). Many of us drank only that throughout the entire week. Very refreshing when you’ve been in the sun / heat all day!

On our last day, when I met the new group coming in, some members of Great Shape! Inc. continued to yell “Triple P!” and do the hand gesture, thereby socially disseminating that brand to a new crop of volunteers.

Amazing! In just a few short days, a simple brand had spread throughout two very large groups (and who knows where it will end up?). Even after we left, Great Shape! Inc. organizers were sending me emails with this written at the bottom: “One Love and Triple P”.

Clinical Work

On Monday, I developed a new appreciation for dentists, assistants, hygienists, front desk staff and office managers. Simply put: it’s a lot of hard work you guys are doing! And it’s physically laborious. No wonder you guys need to see massage therapists. As a lawyer, I spend hours in front of a computer or on the phone or visiting dentists. It’s not physically difficult and I don’t deal with more than 100 dentists a year; but you guys see a lot of patients (sometimes a few hundred per year) and it’s amazing that your workspace is confined to a very tight area. Amazing!

So what did I do? Well, I didn’t really sit down the whole week. I started off doing ‘mob control’ (think: 300+ people trying to come in at once and being stopped only by a somewhat porous gate, myself, and some community volunteers). It worked out in that we were able to give ticketed appointments to about 350 people for the next week and a half, which helped calm the crowd and send people home. The other two clinics (Cave Valley and Kendall) didn’t have the same issue initially: one clinic actually had to send someone out in a van to collect patients! I loved my job, and having done it all week, I hope to do it better the next time around.

We only had 2 dentists and 2 hygienists for most of the week and we saw an average of about 45 patients a day. It was busy! Once we were properly organized for the week, my responsibilities included: doing patient intake, interacting with local volunteers (“Keep that Damn Gate Closed!” or “Get Those Kids Away From the Windows!” were some of my favourite sayings), sterilizing chairs and equipment, emptying the so-called “Bloody Spittoon” (we had portable Cavatrons that needed the spit to be changed out every now and then), refilling the Cavatron water compartments, taking digital x-rays when required (with Patterson Imaging software and scanners), making sure the team was well hydrated / rested and liaising with EVERYONE regularly to make sure the office could keep running and that they knew how far along we were and what was left to do for the day. I learned so much about processes, equipment, supplies, etc. and I am grateful to everyone who was patient with me.

Speaking with the locals about their daily living conditions also struck a chord with me and many others. Being out and about with the local population, I would hear stories about how families didn’t have enough money to send children to school; how dentistry was in such high demand but unaffordable to the masses and how it was controlled by private interests; how people suffered with sensitive, chipped / broken teeth, or stained teeth. We couldn’t help everyone. You wanted to. We all wanted to stay there all day and night treating patients, but it wasn’t physically possible and you had to rest up for the next day. We did see (at all 3 clinics) over 730 patients which we are proud of. Some of us initially thought we weren’t making a difference: how can we possibly do good when all we are doing is 1 extraction when 3 or 4 are required, plus 2 fillings and a cleaning? We were limited in time and resources. We did what we could with what we had. And the people were so grateful we were there. And our dentists even bent the rules and did a few more extractions (than they were required to do). Or sent a patient who had a filling done to get a cleaning. We had ethical and practical issues arise every single minute. And we dealt with them as best as we could. Again, we saw a lot of desperate patients that week.

But it’s not just a numbers game: we connected with patients and local volunteers. I’m sure that each of us had a moment that truly affected us. That brought home the idea of why we were there. It’s all about the people. Giving back to them. Helping them and helping ourselves in the process. And some of us went above and beyond to help out in any way we could (e.g. a few members of our team sponsored some children so they could have books and clothes to go to school, etc.). The fact that our dentists, hygienists and support staff were able to make them walk away with less pain or a more beautiful smile made a world of difference to them (and us too!).

We took lots of pictures with patients after their treatment (some of which you can see here). They would come up to us and give us hugs and handshakes with large grins. They would be smiling and happy to have a filling done, a cleaning, or a tooth extracted. That is how they show their appreciation because they have little or nothing else to give. One older gentleman with a red bonnet and who was missing quite a few teeth (who I will never forget) was so grateful that he dropped off a 50 lb bag on our last day, full of sugar cane, coconuts, and juicy plums. YUMMY! I had been craving sugar cane the entire trip. The team enjoyed those goodies. FYI, the towel in the picture was placed there by Brian (our driver) as a result of me having all the white stuff on me (explained below!!!).

Back at the resort, after a long/hard day, we were pooped! We would typically shower/nap/meet up for a dip in the pool/beach and have dinner. Some of us would take in a show. And then we’d head to the bar for some Triple Ps. We’d “PARTY” hard, as our brand requires. So that was day 1. Now we knew what life would be for the next few days.

Tuesday – Thursday

Throughout the week, we basically repeated what happened on Monday, but with a few changes. For example: at the clinic, we accommodated a blind man (which really affected me), a screaming child (thank God for Dr. D!), and many elderly with high blood pressure. I saw Dr. Grantly (a new dentist graduate from U Tech Dental) spend 1.5 hours trying to extract roots on a tooth (for which the crown had snapped during an extraction). Despite struggling and sweating, he never gave up or called for help. He got it done. And I was so amazed that I gave him a new nickname on the bus ride home: “Dr. Scoops”.    His weapon of choice: a scooper (a.k.a. elevator)! Here is Dr. Scoops working on another patient (note: he saw about 18 patients that day, almost all of them were extractions!  And to think he is just a new grad dentist! AMAZING!):

Funny enough, the nickname “Dr. Scoops” stayed with Grantly for the rest of the trip. Even the Dean of U Tech Dental/Chief Medical Officer of Jamaica (Dr. Irving McKenzie, pictured above) called him Dr. Scoops during dinner on Saturday. I hope he doesn’t mind 😉

I’ll be honest: every day, I looked forward to returning to the clinic. To do better the next day. I actually dreamt about it each night. It’s like I was addicted to it: I didn’t care about eating or drinking or sitting. I wanted to get back there and reprise my role. To learn and help out as best as I could. And I wasn’t the only one. Our entire group would talk during dinner about how they wanted to improve and get back out there. We would talk about how many dentist or hygiene cases were booked for the day and how we were going to manage. We talked about supplies and what we needed. We made suggestions and gave ourselves critical feedback. We collaborated. It was quite amazing. Everyone who went down on this trip TRULY cared about providing top notch dental services. While being at a Beaches resort was definitely amazing (and we are forever grateful to the Sandals Foundation for donating the rooms), I’m sure most of us will remember the good work that we did and the people we met.

Friday: Happy B-Day (enter the beer and flour)

OK, so Friday was my birthday. And I learned during the week that it was typical to get doused in beer, flour and eggs on your birthday. So I came prepared to the clinic that Friday. I brought extra clothes. The entire day went by and nothing happened. I noticed that there was some beer in our cooler (which we never had before and which there was only 1 can of), and I thought: hmmm… not the best thing to pack in the cooler given that no one can drink on the job… ah well, someone will have it after we’re done. And that someone was ME! So the local volunteers called me into the waiting area, took off my hat and sunglasses and gave me a Happy Birthday – Jamaican Style:

In my next blog, I’ll talk about how some of the major lessons I learned and how we can improve this already amazing trip for the next group going down next year.

The Content of this post is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be legal, financial, tax, or other professional advice of any kind. You are advised to contact DMC (or other counsel) to seek specific legal advice concerning your individual situation.