Alumnus does dentistry in Nicaragua

Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick is a 2001 PLNU alum who majored in biology. He received his Doctorate of Dental Surgery at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in 2006. Dr. Fitzpatrick is a board member for Foundation for Worldwide Health, a volunteer-based organization that serves poor communities.

He is also the founder and CEO of Cura Coffee, whose Board of Advisors include PLNU’s Fermanian Business and Economic Institute Executive Director Cathy Gallagher and Senior Counsel Randy Ataide. A portion of Cura Coffee’s proceeds go toward the effort of sustainable dentistry in areas lacking these resources.

Dr. Fitzpatrick is also on the Board of Directors of the Fermanian Business and Economic Institute, and currently serves in dental practices in Point Loma and Del Mar. The Point Weekly spoke with Dr. Fitzpatrick and discussed how he combines his dentistry and passion for nonprofit work in Nicaragua.

The Point Weekly: Could you tell us about the nonprofit work you’re doing and how it started?

Thomas Fitzpatrick: I’ve always had a passion to do mission work, and wanted to get into medicine, and I felt like combining the two. So I went to Loma Linda, and got plugged into a trip going to Nicaragua, and it started in 2000. So we started out doing dental work at a small elementary school, which is an hour outside of Managua. Then we started to form and do more clinics around Nicaragua. So we ended up moving kind of our home base into the capital city of Managua and in 2005, we formed the foundation – Foundation for Worldwide Health, focused in on the efforts in Nicaragua. We really wanted to figure out how we could train and equip the local people, to provide the care…we wanted long-term, sustainable change. And so, in 2007, we formed a relationship with Unica, which is the University Catholica, in Managua. They have a medical school and a dental school, and they said, well let’s do a clinic here, let’s have Loma Linda students work side by side with Nicaraguan students, in kind of this collaborative effort. So it was really cool. And then last year — we were able to finally get the clinic built and equipped through a grant from Rotary International, $30,000 grant, and so now we have a rotation of Nicaraguan students and professors providing care at the clinic when we’re not there. So it was really cool to be able to see that come to life.

PW: How long are the trips, usually?

TF: We used to do two weeks, but we ended up trimming it back to 10 days.

PW: How many people do you service while you’re there?

TF: We see anywhere from 600 to 1,000 patients in that time period.

PF: Is it a free service?

TF: Yeah, the services we offer are free. Over the years, we’ve learned that working with the Catholic church has been great because there were several years where we found people coming through our clinic that have focal crowns — they have access to care. But when we work with the Catholic people down there, the Catholic priests, they know the needs of the people and they know who needs to come for the care.

PW: Did Point Loma shape or influence or further your interest in that kind of work?

TF: It helped me attain the goals to get to the next level. I envisioned going into medicine and doing mission work before I came to Point Loma, but Point Loma really opened up the opportunity for me to go to dental school and helped reinforce God’s call on my life to do that…If you haven’t gone on any LoveWorks trips, go for it. They’re awesome.

PW: Can you tell us about the fair-trade coffee company you founded, Cura Coffee?

TF: It’s organic and we’re marketing it as a direct trade, meaning that we directly source the beans from them and we provide dental care directly to them. So we say it’s direct trade, with direct impact, and we bring it directly to you. So really, the idea is to connect coffee lovers with the farmers of families that harvest those beans

PW: Do you have any advice for students who have an interest in nonprofit work with an organization?

TF: I would say surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share the dreams, the ideas that you want to do or what you want to accomplish and really see what talents and abilities God has blessed you with, and passions. I really feel like we’re blessed to be able to have the education and resources and the contacts here in the States. So, if you really want to do something with those, share those ideas with people, surround yourself with people who can help you in those pursuits, and find some mentors who can really help you think through and process and put you in touch with the right people, and get out there and network. I really feel, in my life, that God has opened the right doors at the right time, and put the right people in my path. I just continue to go forward — I had no clue that I’d be starting up a coffee company… this coffee project is just another opportunity to help further the work that we’re doing.