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Community Outreach / Service Learning

Community Outreach / Service Learning

Being engaged in the surrounding community and striving to make it a better place is a key piece of Penn’s mission and educational goals. Through the School’s varied outreach and service-learning programs, Penn Dental Medicine students provide much-needed oral health services to the community, while broadening their understanding of public health issues. These academically based service-learning programs provide students and faculty with the framework to complete community-based activities as an essential, required component of academic course work. In total, students log approximately 16,000 service hours each year in both required and elective community experiences and the honors program.

This integral part of the curriculum takes students outside of the School’s clinics and campus to connect with diverse segments of the public and come to understand the impact of social, cultural, and economic forces on oral health care. The service learning programs are also an innovative and sustainable model for increasing access to care within the community and provides dental students and faculty with multiple opportunities to work with community partners in existing service programs where oral health education and services can be readily implemented. The required nature of students’ activities ensures that all students receive a consistent level of mentored community activities, and provides a consistent presence in oral health programs organized with agency partners in the community.

A Curriculum Requirement: Each student is required to complete 82 hours of service activities before graduation, as well as a sequence of four academically based service courses (one in each four years of the curriculum). The following chart offers a summary of the four required service-learning courses:

Required Service-Learning Courses

Course Service-Learning Activities
First Year: Health Promotion 6 hours of classroom education in Philadelphia public schools
Second Year: Local & Global Public Health 24 hours of experiences with University interdisciplinary programs and other social service agencies
Third Year: Experiences in Community Health 80 hours of clinical activities in Philadelphia School District programs and LIFE Dental Center
Fouth Year: Advanced Experiences in Community Health 24 hours of clinical activities in Philadelphia School District programs and LIFE Dental Center

Students also have the opportunity in their second, third, and fourth years to apply to the honors degree program in Community Health. The honors program allows talented and motivated students to go beyond the basic requirements to receive an intensive experience in developing and implementing community health programs from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Community Service Programs & Partners

Penn Dental Medicine’s academically based service-learning program is based on a high level of collaboration between the University and community-based partners in West and Southwest Philadelphia. The School’s Division of Community Oral Health maintains active engagement and dental care programs with the following community partners: Philadelphia School District, Philadelphia FIGHT, Homeless Health Initiative, Puentes de Salud, University City Hospitality Coalition (UCHC), and United Community Clinics (UCC).

Penn Dental Medicine faculty and students provide comprehensive clinical care in community settings through the PennSmiles mobile dental care vehicle; Mercy LIFE, a program of comprehensive care for low-income elderly; Sayre Health Center; and Philadelphia FIGHT. The Division maintains a robust profile of community engaged scholarship and research projects, and has received four HRSA training grants to support community and public health training programs in collaboration with the Division’s community partners.

School District of Philadelphia: Since 1994, Penn Dental Medicine students and faculty have worked with school district officials to complete classroom education and mandated dental examination at 22 elementary and high school public and parochial schools. In 2003, the PennSmiles mobile dental vehicle began operation, providing comprehensive dental care to schoolchildren, and in 2009, the school-based dental sealant programs was instituted using portable dental equipment. In 2017, the new PennSmiles mobile dental office began operation, and after a year of overlapping service, the original PennSmiles vehicle was retired in 2018.

Community-Based Dental Care: Penn Dental Medicine faculty and students provide dental care at three community-based clinics: Mercy LIFE, Sayre Health Center, and Philadelphia FIGHT Family Dental Center.

  • Mercy LIFE Center: In 2010, Penn Dental Medicine began the dental care program at the LIFE Center (Living Independently For Elders) in West Philadelphia. Modeled after the national program of all-inclusive care for the elderly, the mission of Mercy LIFE is to advance a unique, interdisciplinary system of all-inclusive healthcare for frail seniors in West and Southwest Philadelphia. Faculty and students provide examination, preventive, restorative, and prosthodontic dental care as part of the interdisciplinary care team at Mercy LIFE. Third- and fourth-year dental students, as well as fourth-year honors students, complete rotations at LIFE with faculty dentists and public health dental hygiene practitioners.
  • Sayre Health Center: The Sayre Health Center is a full-service, primary care community health center located at the back of Sayre High School at 58th and Walnut streets. Penn Dental Medicine developed a dental center at Sayre in 2011 as part of the funding in the 2010-2016 HRSA grant to expand the School’s community health programs. Currently all second-, third-, and fourth-year dental students complete rotations at Sayre, as well as third- and fourth-year honors students.
  • Philadelphia FIGHT: Philadelphia FIGHT is a full service, primary care community health center that specializes in both medical and dental care of medically complex and special needs patients. Currently all second-year dental students complete rotations at Philadelphia FIGHT Family Dental Center, as well as third- and fourth-year honors students.

Interdisciplinary Health Care Programs: Penn Dental Medicine students and faculty work in collaboration with Penn medical, nursing, and social work students to provide oral health education, dental screenings, and referral for dental care at four University-based interdisciplinary care clinics: Homeless Health Initiative, Puentes de Salud, University City Hospitality Coalition, and United Community Clinic.

  • Homeless Health Initiative (HHI): Started in 1988 by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the Homeless Health Initiative (HHI) is an outreach program that provides medical and dental services to homeless women and children. HHI serves West Philadelphia homeless shelters, including Lutheran Settlement House, Jane Adams Place, People Emergency Center, and St. Barnabas Mission. Penn Dental Medicine students and faculty work closely with HHI to provide dental screenings and oral education.
  • Puentes de Salud: Puentes de Salud is a health clinic that provides care and assistance to Latino immigrants in the Philadelphia area. In order to achieve this mission, Puentes de Salud unites various professionals, students, and volunteers, to provide medical and dental care, education, and many different outreach programs in their own native language. Dental faculty and students provide oral health education, dental screenings, and referrals to dental care, facilitating dental care at both Sayre Health Center as well as Penn Dental Medicine’s pediatric clinic.
  • University City Hospitality Coalition (UCHC): The University City Hospitality Coalition (UCHC) is dedicated to fighting hunger and homelessness in the University City neighborhood of West Philadelphia. To this end, UCHC provides meals to homeless and hungry individuals in University City six days per week and provides a weekly medical clinic, dental clinic, and legal clinic, as well as referrals to homeless shelters, and agencies providing other services guests need. Dental faculty and students participate in team meetings before and after the sessions and provide oral health education, dental screening, and referrals to dental care.
  • United Community Clinics (UCC):The United Community Clinic (UCC) is a free treatment and assessment clinic for the East Parkside Community of West Philadelphia. UCC is organized and run through a collaborative effort of Penn Medical, Nursing, Dental, and Social Work students and their Schools. The clinic provides a wide range of services and Penn Dental Medicine students and faculty provide oral health education, dental screening, and referrals to dental care.

Community Health Honors Degree Program

Students enrolled in the Community Health honors degree program provide at least 120 hours in coordinating and staffing these interdisciplinary clinics, and second- and third-year students provide specialized oral health educational programs, complete oral health examinations, and discuss dentist referrals to both the Penn Dental Medicine clinics as well as neighborhood dental centers.

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