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Schweitzer Fellow for Life Stays Involved With Community

Ray Wang
May 22, 2014
Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellowship Program Director Ray Wang talks with Schweitzer alumna Sodabeh Etminan about her experience as a Fellow and about how the Program has made a lasting impact on both her health career and the community she worked with.

As a 2012-13 Schweitzer Fellow, Sodabeh (Sue) Etminan partnered with the after school program at Erie Neighborhood House (ENH) in Humboldt Park to provide oral hygiene instruction and screenings for children. At the time, Sue had already been a practicing community dentist and was pursuing her public health degree at the University of Illinois.  She succeeded in teaching and providing screenings and referrals for hundreds of children, and also helped the site obtain funding from the Wrigley Foundation to continue her project after her Fellowship year. Now a Fellow for Life, Sue continues to be involved with ENH and just last month organized an oral health fair that provided screenings and referrals for 160 children. Sue is currently a community dentist at the Heartland Health Outreach Dental Clinic in the Uptown neighborhood.

Ray: Sue, please give us a little background about your connection to the Humboldt Park community and the genesis of your Fellowship project.  

Sue: As a dentist, I frequently see adult patients wishing that someone had reviewed oral hygiene with them at a younger age. By the time they see me, we are discussing tooth extractions or other invasive treatments. Many of my patients were originally from Chicago and lived in Humboldt Park, a community that had difficulties with access to dental care, and Erie Neighborhood House (ENH) was the perfect organization to start a dental program geared towards oral hygiene in children.  ENH has been in existence since 1870, and is a trusted organization in the community that has helped and advocated for families with a variety of needs including affordable housing, workforce development, and programs for children and youth.  My site mentor, Michael Guarrine, and others at ENH were so supportive of me and my Fellowship project, and with their guidance I was able to tailor a curriculum to teach children about good oral health habits, healthy nutrition, and lessen any anxiety they might have had about going to the dentist.  

Ray: Tell us about how your oral health program has continued…Has anything changed at all since when you were a Fellow?

Sue: We found out that we had received the Wrigley Foundation grant towards the end of my Fellowship year. We were able to use it to train staff members at ENH so they could continue incorporating oral health in their lesson plans even with my absence. The grant was especially helpful when it came time to do the screenings because I was able to order everything we needed through some of the companies that were kind enough to donate to my project when I was a Fellow.

Ray: These are cute pictures from your oral health fair last month… tell us about how it went.   

Sue: The health fair went well! I was a little apprehensive going in since I wasn’t as involved in the site this year compared to when I was a Fellow, but some of the kids even remembered me from last year, which was nice. I had fourth year dental students from UIC come and volunteer for the day, and they were instrumental in the success of the screenings. This year, we put in place a system to see how many of the referred children are taken to their dental appointments, and how long it took them to make an appointment. I am going to use that data to improve on next year’s event. Unfortunately, more children had urgent oral health needs this year compared to last year and we will be tailoring our curriculum to hopefully see some improvement next year.

We also just found out that we received grant funding for another year, which is very exciting for us! A project like this sometimes takes years to achieve results, and I am happy that we are given this opportunity to positively impact the community.

Ray: That’s really wonderful news!  Congratulations! Sue, a new class of Chicago Schweitzer Fellows will be starting their community projects soon.  Do you have any words of advice for them, and in particular, do you have any thoughts about how they might build sustainability into their plans?

Sue: I think sustainability is easier if it is always included in project plans, even from the very beginning. Assume that your project is going to continue well after your fellowship is completed. If the framework for sustainability is in place, the details will fill in more easily. However, it takes a lot of planning to find funding, volunteers, and community support. Even if the project ends with your Fellowship, take lessons learned and apply them to your next public health endeavor. Best of luck!

Ray: Thank you, Sue!