PHOTO: Dr. Phillip Kemp, left, poses for a photo with Ugandan-based dentist Ryan Shinska on Wednesday, March. 6, 2019 at Kemp Dental in Brentwood. // Photo by Rachael Long
By RACHAEL LONG
Five years ago, Uganda-based dentist Ryan Shinska was working in inner-city New Orleans, a young, single man with a comfortable lifestyle as a dentist and football coach.
Sitting across from him Wednesday in the office of Brentwood-based Kemp Dental, Shinska’s life looks much different.
“Life is harder, but it’s good,” Shinska said, reflecting on the transition with a smile.
It was after he took an outreach trip to Uganda that things began to change for him.
“There were literally zero dentists there,” Shinska said. “So I started to feel called to actually start a dental clinic out there.”
If he was going to call himself a Christian, Shinska said there was no reason why he shouldn’t use his abilities to help provide access to “transformative” dental care where it was needed.
With that in mind, Shinska returned to the United States to investigate what his next steps would look like.
He said he was asking for God for guidance. After one “particularly intense” night of prayer in Uganda, Shinska said he got an answer.
Brentwood dentist and Hope Smiles Founder and CEO Phillip Kemp reached out through email, asking Shinska to partner with his nonprofit, Hope Smiles.
“It was a pretty clear answer to prayer,” Shinska said. “It’s not quite Moses parting the Red Sea or anything like that, but it’s pretty clear.”
Hope Smiles is a Christian non-profit organization of dental professionals developing sustainable dental teams in previously unreached communities all over the world.
Kemp works internationally with Hope Smiles while continuing his domestic practice in Brentwood.
Shinska is the organization’s Uganda director. Although Hope Smiles is a dental care organization, Shinksa said leadership and empowerment are at its core.
“Hope Smiles is really a leadership organization that empowers servant leaders, and dentistry is the tool that God has given us to be able to restore hope and transform lives,” Shinska said.
Its clinical model has four components: a private practice dental clinic, a mobile outreach team, leaders in public health and continuing education. It’s a model designed for self-replication, with leaders teaching rising leaders, and so on.
“What we’ve done in Uganda can be replicated anywhere in the world. It can be replicated here in America, in can be replicated wherever,” Shinska said.
His role in the organization looks a bit different than what is typically expected of a dentist.
“As far as being a dentist in the mouth, I’ve worked myself out of a job in Uganda,” Shinska said.
Where he serves in Jinja, Uganda, Shinska said the organization now has two general dentists and three mid-level dentists to serve the community.
These days his role is administrative and his efforts are focused on the heart of the organization, teaching sustainable leadership.
Thanks to that focus, Shinska said the organization is ready to replicate, on what organization leaders hope will be a global scale.
“Dental care is such a missing piece, globally,” Shinska said. “There are billions of people worldwide that don’t have a dentist. In Uganda, there [are] 320 dentists for a country of 39 million people. And most of those are concentrated in the capital city where people have money.”
The cost of care for rural areas is high, and Shinska said the organization is looking for partnerships.
“In 2018, only 30 percent of our outreach days were paid, and we’re out there every day,” Shinska said. “So we’re just hemorrhaging money.”
In order to be able to continue providing the community with adequate care, compensate the team in Uganda and remain sustainable, Shinska said Hope Smiles is looking for partnerships.
“I know that there are dentists worldwide who want to be able to share their skill and share their talent in a sustainable way and in an impactful way,” Shinska said.
In an effort to continue building communities, the organization launched the Hope Transforms 2019 Campaign, which seeks 250 “big-hearted visionaries” to each donate or raise $1,000
Any dentist, leader, individual can be part of the campaign.
Along with training in compassionate dental care, the team in Uganda is also trained in storytelling. As a result, those partnered with Hope Smiles will receive a story of transformation each time there is an outreach in the community they sponsor.
“If we’re able to tell the stories of our patients and be able to speak to them about how we’re restoring life, it’s going to make us better at what we’re doing because it’s going to increase our motivation in our investment and passion in our work,” Shinska said.
Along with the 2019 campaign, Shinska said there are also corporate partnerships available, for “anyone that just wants to invest and be part of this story.”
For more information on Hope Smiles or to get involved, visit the organization’s website here.