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The Catalyst

A trip to Morocco changes a dentist's perspective

By Helen Adams
Public Relations

Dental Medicine’s Dr. Walter Renne and a team of MUSC volunteers traveled more than 8,000 miles to Marrakesh, Morocco to provide medical and dental care services as part of MUSC’s Medical Campus Outreach. photos provided

Walter Renne is fearless when it comes to performing complicated dental procedures on his patients at MUSC. Putting his trust in an airplane traveling hundreds of miles an hour is another matter.

“I’m not too used to going places. I’m scared to fly,” Renne recently said in his office in MUSC’s Division of Restorative Dentistry.

He’s not alone. One study found that up to 40 percent of people have at least some anxiety about flying.

But Renne did something that many of those people fail to do. He got an on airplane anyway. And not only did he fly to another city. He flew to another continent.

Dr. Walter Renne, right, works with dental student Brandon Chasteen as they provide restorative dental work to a Moroccan patient as part of MUSC’s Medical Campus Outreach visit to Marrakesh.

Renne, DMD, an assistant professor of medicine and a specialist in computer–aided restorative dentistry at the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine. He traveled more than 4,000 miles to North Africa. That’s how strongly he believed in the value of  helping in a free clinic with a team of fellow volunteers from MUSC.

“The need there is so much more profound than the need here,” Renne said.

Morocco may be best known in this country as the dramatic and glamorous setting for the 1942 film Casablanca, but unfortunately, in the medical field it’s known for something else as well: poor health care.

Fewer than a third of Moroccans have health insurance and Morocco’s own minister of health labeled his country’s standard of care inadequate.

In May, nearly 50 people from MUSC, including Renne, went to Morocco to do what they could to help. They are part of the Charleston chapter of Medical Campus Outreach. MCO is a national organization that brings together teams of health care experts to do volunteer work in countries with need, such as Morocco.

“We had a team of people from MUSC from almost every discipline you can imagine,” Renne said.

That team included dentists, physicians, physicians’ assistants, nurses, pharmacists, occupational and physical therapists, and students.  

The MUSC team worked for two weeks in a clinic in Marrakesh, where a line of patients waiting to be seen stretched down the street. The team helped everyone from the very old to the very young.  

Renne described the circumstances facing some of his younger patients. “So many children in pain with their teeth, with abscesses, just coming in crying
and in pain. To be able to remove that pain for them and send them home happy was just incredible,” Renne said.

The MUSC team found the work personally rewarding, and it served another purpose as well: it offered the chance for MUSC students to work one–on–one with mentors in a fast-paced environment and allowed them to see what experts from other disciplines do.

Dr. Walter Renne, left, joined MUSC dental, medical, nursing and health profession students and volunteers during their two-week medical outreach trip to Morocco in May.

“The students benefited greatly from this,” Renne said. “Take for example just the dental team, which is the team I was with. We’re together with everybody else, and so for the first time, the dental students might get to see exactly what physicians’ assistants do, and nursing and pharmacy. We rely on everybody. We come together as this great big team and get a new and profound appreciation for the rest of the medical profession.”

Renne plans to participate in future international medical volunteer trips with the MUSC team, despite the fact it will involve getting back on an airplane.

“It’s everything to reach out to the rest of the world in my opinion. There’s nothing like traveling to a different area as a team of people with the same goal to bring together the various disciplines all working together and see the miraculous teamwork that happens.”

August 8, 2014



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