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Special Olympics another venue for Creighton health sciences students to give back

Creighton School of Dentistry Professor Joe Franco, DDS, examines an athlete during Creighton's Special Smiles program, held in conjunction with the Special Olympics.A longstanding partnership between Creighton University and Special Olympics Nebraska is providing Creighton health sciences students with new avenues for service.

Friday, May 19, Creighton students and faculty from the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions and the School of Dentistry greeted Special Olympics athletes at the Skutt Student Center and Kiewit Fitness Center to prepare them for upcoming competitions.

Physical therapy students and faculty from SPAHP checked flexibility and muscle and joint movements and provided information on proper stretching, while dental students molded mouth guards for athletes in contact sports and counseled on the importance of dental health in overall wellness.

“This has been a fabulous partnership between Creighton and the community and Special Olympics,” said Kelly Nelson, DPT’08, a physical therapy professor. “It’s a way of getting our students out and seeing the meaningful work of programs for health and wellness as the athletes prepare to compete.”

Kaylee VanLaecken, a third-year dental student, said the dental event, known as Special Smiles, was another example of what she feels has been the undercurrent of her Creighton dental education: service.

“My heart as a dental student is to give back to the community,” VanLaecken said, helping an athlete feel comfortable as a mouth guard mold set up. “The service element has been a part of all of our courses and it sets us up well for practice as professionals. We have to ask ourselves how we might be able to use the skills we’ve acquired at Creighton.”

Joe Franco, BS’80, DDS’84, professor and assistant director of School of Dentistry Clinics, spent time Friday overseeing student work and doing dental screenings for athletes. He said the School of Dentistry always relishes an opportunity to be of service.

“We, as faculty, love to be out for these events,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for students and way to show them what it means to give back.”

For more than a decade, Creighton has hosted Special Olympics events and, in recent years, has coupled it with health screenings for athletes. The event is another in a long line of service opportunities seeing Creighton health sciences students learn the importance of giving back and hone their professional skills.

“It’s a good reminder of why we want to become dentists and, more than that, Creighton dentists,” VanLaecken said. “We’ve just finished up a stressful period of exams and studying and to be able to come out today and help with this, it’s a helpful reminder of how your skills can make a difference.”

Third-year physical therapy student Jacob Kmiecik, staffing a functional reach station testing flexibility, said the day was another highlight of what becoming a Creighton-trained health professional is all about.

“You get to share a day with people you can help and other volunteers you can learn from and enjoy time with,” he said. “At Creighton, this is how we further our educational experience. We find applicable moments and we take advantage of those opportunities to serve. It’s a main reason that we decided to get an education at this university.”

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