The port of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua bustled with activity the morning of June 23, 2011. U.S. military personnel crossed the loading docks with great purpose, as a group of Nicaraguan dental faculty stepped from their vans into the throng of activity. Sixteen men and women representing the only two dental schools in Nicaragua looked eagerly onto the choppy waters upon which they were about to embark. The colossal white hospital ship, the U.S. Naval Ship (USNS) Comfort, emerged through the morning mist, and the bright red crosses emblazoned on its side beckoned to the visiting faculty.
The faculty members' visit was a dental subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua coordinated with the Dental Department aboard the USNS Comfort. Timing their ascent with the rise and fall of the Pacific Ocean waves, the visitors boarded the ship and began their educational adventure. Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Mike Rudmann welcomed the group and offered a quick orientation to the activities and purpose of the nine-nation civic and humanitarian mission of the USNS Comfort. Steadying themselves against the rocking of the ship, the group got a first-hand look at the extensive dental and medical facilities on board, followed by a glimpse of everyday life with a trip to the mess hall and a memorable stop on the flight deck.
The group then settled into a conference room for an active discussion about medical emergency concerns and response strategies. The participants shared professional challenges and attentively listened to the observations of Commander Tim Ackerman, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. LCDR Rudmann offered insight on U.S. methods of evaluation and treatment planning and then broke the visitors into three groups of mixed specialties to tackle an interactive evaluation of a complicated dental rehabilitation case. New friendships and partnerships blossomed in the small group as participants listened and learned from one other. The final presentations showcased the complexity of the exercise as each group expertly defended unique treatment plans.
The group took a final walk through the now familiar halls and descended from the ship, thankful for the opportunity to share techniques, knowledge, and culture with their U.S. counterparts. The impact of the visit will grow exponentially as the Nicaraguan faculty members impart the methods and training they received on board the USNS Comfort to their own colleagues and students. Everyone committed fully to the spirit of the professional exchange, and LCDR Rudmann noted that this successful program will serve as a model for future dental training activities.