Volunteer for life: Dr Brian Hurwitz

Posted on 13th May 2020

National Volunteering Week takes place from May 18 to 24marking a great opportunity to celebrate those people who selflessly volunteer within the dental community.

Equal Health – Dr Brian Hurwitz

Dr Brian Hurwitz wanted to use his dental skills to give something back to the community. “I felt that we are a privileged profession and that our talents should be used, not only for those who can afford them, or have access to them, but that it is part of our professional and moral duty to treat and assist everyone who needs our skills, irrespective of their station in life.” 

Brian says he was always fascinated by the vibrancy of India and thought it would be a “bucket list place that would stay in the bucket” before seeing an opportunity to volunteer there. 

One day I was reading the Western Articulator and I saw this column advertising the opportunity for dentist volunteers to go to India,” he recalls. I immediately contacted Equal Health, who were marketing the trips. They were subscribed that year and promised to contact me the following year. I told my wife that I wanted to do this, and she said, not only was it a good idea but that she wanted to go as well. I was to train her in basic assisting skills, and she would join the party as a dental assistant. I knew nothing about the organisation and that it was not only a dental group, but medical, optical and allied health volunteering. One of the committee recognised her name (she is a speech therapist) and said that they would not let her professional skills go wasted and that she could go in her professional capacity. And so, the journey began. 

The Hurwitz’s first trip was in 2009 and they were based rurally in a centre for the physically and mentally handicapped adults and children, as well as orphans and “discarded” children who were rescued from the streets. 

The dental team serviced the centre, but mainly the rural villages in the area that had basically no access to dental care,” Brian says. The treatment was basically first aid relief of pain and treatment of infection, so most of the work was extractions. There was some oral hygiene education and issuing of donated toothbrushes. This was all done in very primitive conditions, usually in an unpowered school room or in a makeshift al fresco clinic in the village, accessed on horrific roads in probably unroadworthy and overloaded vehicles driven by cowboy locals.  

It was so much fun. We brought all the equipment with us from Perth as well as anaesthetics and whatever was needed. Sterilisation was done in a pressure cooker apparatus. 

The experience was fantastic, according to Brian. Working conditions are harsh and primitive, but at the time you do not take it into account. The work is hard, but it is not hard work! The satisfaction that you get and the appreciation of the population cannot be measured.  I always say that you may be giving of your skills and time, but what you receive in return is much more. It is a very addictive experience, and that is why one goes back again and again for more and more. 

The other immeasurable factor is the people that you come into contact with. Team members who, otherwise, you would not have had the chance to have contact with. The activity seems to attract a special quality of person. We have met and become acquainted with the most amazing people from all walks of life and skills. There is also, in addition the unique opportunity of experiencing rural life in this exotic location. 

Soon after his experience in India, Brian bumped into Dr John Owen, who invited him to an evening that Kimberley Dental Team was hosting. Brian says there was no hesitation putting his name down, and numerous trips to the Kimberley has followed and work in clinics with KDT Southern in Perth. 

As a “volunteer junkie” he says to anyone considering volunteering that it is a unique experience being offered. “It may start out as being a little out of your comfort zone, but this is short lived,” he says. You have a skill that may not be popular, but in the circumstance, it is greatly appreciated by the patient, who may have been suffering for a long time with no access to help, and now there is relief.  

The personalities running the shows and fellow volunteers are an amazing, benevolent and generous group and there is a spirit of mentoring and teamwork. It is an adventure with immeasurable benefits to the givers and the receivers. There is a wonderful spirit of camaraderie. It seems that today you can choose to go to all corners of the world, near and far, with groups wanting to help communities in need. Most of the time all you are giving up is some of your time to make a difference to someone who needs you.” 

To enquire about volunteering with Equal Health, email info@equalhealth.org.au