Rachel Laureyns (GPH ’14)
Delivering Dentistry Worldwide
By Dulcy Israel
Portrait by Joel Griffith
Few residents move out of Wickenburg, Arizona, a town so small that outsiders only “know it because you drive from Phoenix to Las Vegas and stop for lunch, gas, or a speeding ticket,” says native Rachel Laureyns. But an unexpected recruitment postcard from Franklin University Switzerland in the Swiss town of Lugano (four miles from the Italian border) led her to what she labels a “dream job” that takes her all over the world.
After earning a bachelor’s from Franklin in 2006 in international communications and political science, which included trips to Malawi, Cuba, Morocco, and more (“the academic travel program sold me,” she says), Laureyns took a sales job back in Arizona. A year later she defected to New York City, which she fell in love with at first sight—“and we’re talking Port Authority,” she says with a laugh. There, she scored an interview for an alumni events coordinator position at NYU’s College of Dentistry, during which she expressed a desire to be in the Peace Corps forever. Her questioner told her to come back in an hour and speak instead to a vice dean about a job coordinating academic travel for dental students.
That was 11 years ago. About once a month, Laureyns, now the school’s senior director of global outreach and international initiatives, shoulders the logistical burden of transporting a 35- to 40-person team consisting of third- and fourth-year dental students, postgrads, faculty, administrators, and alumni—plus equipment and supplies—to communities in dire need of oral healthcare. The destinations range from Cambodia to remote Alaska to upstate New York, and treatments go from cavity prevention to oral surgery.
Laureyns credits the program’s evolution to what she calls “the theoretical foundation” she gained while earning a master’s degree from the College of Global Public Health. “There was no systematic intervention,” she says of the early years. “It was very typical of most medical missions—you fly in, you provide care, you don’t leave that much behind.” Now, Laureyns says, they measure the clinics’ impact and “dig in longer-term in order to see change in the communities.” That means focusing primarily on kids because “you have the best shot at prevention, at behavior change,” she says. A typical outreach, for example, might set up a toothbrushing regimen in schools.
Videos posted on the Dentistry site from these far-flung clinics can move someone to tears, something Laureyns is not immune to. “I cry a lot on my trips,” she says. “Planning these programs literally keeps me awake at night. [But] there’s always a moment where everything comes together. There’s a patient in every chair, a full waiting room. Everyone’s head is down and they’re in it, and my team and I sort of step back and go . . .” She lets out a long sigh.
Laureyns directs the logistics of transporting a 35- to 40-person team—plus equipment and supplies—to communities in dire need of oral healthcare.