Thoughts on Volunteering at the Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh Dental Clinic

Although we now see this quote everywhere, the real source of "Live, Laugh, Love" is Bessie Anderson Stanley's 1904 poem, "Success." Stanley originally submitted the work in the form of an essay for a contest held by Brown Book magazine that asked entrants to define success.

“He achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth's beauty or failed to express it; Who has left the world better than he found it, Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; Whose life was an inspiration; Whose memory a benediction.”

Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh Volunteers

Think about those words and what they mean in defining a successful life. How often do we stop in the midst of very busy days to live, laugh and love? We accomplish tasks every day but are these tasks purposeful? Have we left this world better than we found it, and have we given the best that we have?

These questions gained special relevance as I spent a day volunteering at Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh [MOMPGH], a two-day free dental clinic of which TeleTracking is the founding sponsor. Held at PPG Paints Arena—normally home to concerts and Pittsburgh Penguins hockey games—the event is a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable members of the community who don’t have dental insurance or can’t afford dental care.   

Patients have access to basic dental services like x-rays and cleanings, as well as more advanced procedures, root canals, extractions and oral surgeries. As a volunteer, this experience emphasized the interpersonal aspects of nursing and expanded my personal passion for healing over and over again.

Working with the patients at  Mission of Mercy, I was touched at how easily we connected spiritually and emotionally. I held a crying 10-year-old child and stroked her hair to calm her down after an involved dental procedure; helped a man whose glucose was over 400 get the treatment that he needed to qualify for his extraction, and hugged many, many more patients when they expressed their gratitude through tears of joy and thank you’s for reducing their pain. Another example that touched my heart, I sat with a man who shared his divorce story with me and told me that he didn’t have a purpose in life anymore. As I listened, he smiled and thanked me for helping him get through this day. He also realized that in order to change his life he needed to start taking care of himself—and we experienced tears of joy together.

And these are just a few of the stories that I had the honor to be a part of―over the course of those two days more than 1,000 people were helped and their lives were changed. It was also an honor to see so much love and a commitment to serving others― from dentists, hygienists, nurses, radiologists and the more than 1,200 volunteers who guided every patient, called them by name, showed them respect and shared laughter and tears together.  

Living, loving and laughing―MOMPGH was a chance to experience all three, and at the same time recognize everything we have to be grateful for. I will be back next year to give my time again and would encourage anyone who can to do the same.   

To learn more about MOMPGH and sign up for regular updates, please visit www.mompgh.org.

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About the Expert

Susan Whitehurst serves as the Managing Director of Advisory Services at TeleTracking, where she directs consulting services specific to Lean Six Sigma patient flow improvements, as organizations work to streamline patient flow and demonstrate reduced waste and improved efficiency. She is a Master Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma and previously developed and taught Six Sigma Programs for Healthcare at North Carolina State University.

Susan previously served in various clinical and executive management roles for almost three decades at Duke University Medical Center, with a focus on critical care and perioperative services. Her final position at Duke was as Senior Associate Chief Operating Officer, directing Perioperative Services, Medical-Surgical Critical Care, Emergency Room and Life Flight/Life Care Services, Oncology Services, and a variety of support services that promote patient flow efficiency and effectiveness.

Susan also served for five years as a consultant for Joint Commission Resources (JCR) in the Patient Safety Solutions division. Consulting solutions included Lean Six Sigma Kaizen events in hospitals, which focused on the reduction of preventable readmissions, early elective deliveries, hospital acquired infections, surgical and medical pain management redesign, medication safety, and project management for the Partnership for Patient’s national campaign.

Susan received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from East Carolina University, a master’s degree in nursing from Duke University, Certification in Change Management from The Joint Commission, and Master Black Belt certification from North Carolina State University.

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