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Oral Health Care Project for Veterans Wins National Award

Wolverine Patriot Project leaders (front row, L to R): Dental students Jesse Edwards, Kevin Goles, Mariam Dinkha, Ameen Shahnam, Tony Guinn; (back row): Drs. Edward Duski, Janis Chmura Duski, Bill Piskorowski, assistant dean for Community-Based Dental Education.

Student-Led Wolverine Patriot Project Wins Tarrson Award

Ann Arbor, MI — February 11, 2014 — A program launched by a group of dental students at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry to provide oral health care to disabled and homeless veterans in northern lower Michigan has won a major national award from the American Dental Association Foundation.

Led by third-year dental student Jesse Edwards, students in the Wolverine Patriot Project saw an urgent oral health care need that was not being met and did something about it.

For their efforts, the dental students were named recipients of the 2013 Bud Tarrson Dental School Student Community Leadership Award.  The award recognizes dental school student programs that demonstrate excellence in providing help to underserved groups of individuals in the U.S.

“I was studying for exams when I received an e-mail with the news about winning the award,” Edwards said.  “I was so excited that, after calming down, I called Tony Guinn and Dr. Bill Piskorowski to share the good news.”

Guinn, president of the school-wide student council, was elated.  “I’m still can’t believe we won the award,” he said with a smile.  “I’m sure this achievement will be one of the highlights of my dental education here at Michigan.”  Guinn said he, Edwards and others involved in the program – Ameen Shahnam, Kevin Goles, and Mariam Dinkha – “were often here at the dental school until midnight reviewing and discussing the information we would submit, emphasizing the needs of the veterans above all.”

The Wolverine Patriot Project was established in April 2012 with two major objectives — the first, to provide comprehensive free dental care to disabled and homeless veterans; the second, to enhance student education and professional training under auspices of the School’s Pathways program.  An integral part of the dental curriculum, the Pathways program gives U-M dental students opportunities to explore career options in health care delivery, leadership or research.

Two School of Dentistry alumni who practice in Gaylord, Michigan, Dr. Edward Duski and his wife, Dr. Janis Chmura Duski, embraced the idea when they learned about it.  Both 1989 graduates of the School of Dentistry, the Duskis offered the dental students the use of their private practice office to treat the veterans, many of whom reside in Gaylord at Patriot Place, a temporary residence for homeless veterans.

Since the Duskis first hosted the dental students in the fall of 2012, 40 veterans have received oral health care, many for the first time in decades.  The dental students return to Gaylord once a month to provide oral health care during the weekend.  Eight dental students, four community dentists and the Duskis are involved.  Drs. Bill Piskorowski and Howard Hamerink are faculty mentors for the Wolverine Patriot Project.