Going to dental school for the second time

student-with-books

Advanced Placement Program, International Dentist Program, Foreign Trained Dentist – all of these three titles are who I am. About half of the 65 dental schools in the United States offer these programs in some form.  Every year hundreds of foreign-trained dentists come to the U.S. from different walks of life. One group is legal immigrants. These are permanent residents or U.S. citizens, but they have completed their dental school outside of the U.S. They must go through school again even though they might have spent their entire life in the U.S. A second group is those who are married to someone working in the U.S. on an H1-B visa and therefore they are on dependent H-4 visa status. The third group is those sponsored by their native country to study overseas and upon completion they must return and work in their home country. This is a J-1 visa. Finally, there are a few students who enter the U.S. upon their own abilities and determination to study with an F-1 student visa status. I belong to this category.

So what do all of the above have in common?

They all received their dental degree outside the U.S. If they want to be licensed to practice dentistry inside the U.S., then they must go through school again. This may be for two to four years varying with state, school policy and regulations. Many times I asked myself, why do I need so much schooling? As a senior, I realize that dentistry learned outside of the U.S. is similar, but not the same, especially regarding restorative dentistry. There are many non-U.S. dental schools whose standards may be on par or exceeding that of the U.S. in various parameters; nevertheless it is the law which requires a United States DMD/DDS to practice dentistry here.

What’s dental school like the second time around?

The big deal is not learning the same stuff again, but to adjust to a new culture, country, academic environment and financial obligations. My biggest fear upon leaving India wasn’t whether I would make it to dental school. It was how to finance my education. My hardships were different than the other three groups of IDP students because I was a foreign citizen and therefore no federal/state funding was available. Even private student loans required co-signers.  Borrowing more $300,000 and hoping to find a cosigner is one of those times you feel helpless enough to quit your dream of attending dental school again. Just because you have a relative/family friend in the US, it is not a guarantee that you are secured until you see his signature officially on your loan application. Luckily, it worked out for me. Unfortunately, there are many who are talented enough but don’t make it to school due to this hurdle.

Dental school in the U.S. was a new experience compared with my first school. The technology learning curve for me was steep: class capture, blackboard, digital library access, online modules, laptops and smartphones.  When you speak to somebody in your regular class, they don’t understand you because of your accent. It took few months to get my tongue Americanized, but I still stand out with some words. Food has always been a challenge for me in the U.S. Due to my strict dietary preferences, I can’t eat 90% of regular stuff available in the markets. I ate a lot of frozen food in the beginning, and finally after getting sick of it I learned to cook.

What have you learned?

I became the most independent I have ever been in my entire life. This place offers you opportunities with wide horizons and limitless ends. One of them was to get involved with ASDA while in dental school. This was instrumental in networking, personal development and communicating with dental students all around the country. I had never found such a large organized community of people who dealt with their issues in the present and made changes as needed. Now, I have a sense of belonging to something bigger and better than myself. I caught ASDA fever at a 2011 regional meeting in Buffalo, N.Y. After this, my involvement was more focused on ASDA than anything else.  I could relate myself to somebody outside of my dental school, but still in my dental world.

What challenges do you face now?

After graduation, I am most concerned about my postgraduate applications and employment. It has been hard to find employers who will sponsor me on a work visa. STEM inclusion of dentistry is greatly needed. I almost spent a decade in dental school, and I am still struggling to find myself a decent job. All these thoughts are the worst nightmares for a fresh graduate, but stopping to think about them doesn’t help. One thing I learned in life is be patient and wait for your time. You don’t get anything before its scheduled time and you don’t get anything beyond your fortune.

Are you happy?

Yes. I had a dream which I protected. Hard work, determination, and dedication made my dreams come true. If you don’t dream, you don’t know what you want from your life. Life is a journey, go explore what the world has to offer you!

If you are a foreign trained dentist looking to get licensed in the U.S., visit Getting Licensed in the United States – Tips for International Dental Students.

~Kaushik Sharma, Temple ’14

About Kaushik Sharma

Kaushik Sharma is fourth year dental student at Temple.


Comments (19)

  1. Lomesh Popat

    It was very inspiring article sir. Happy to have very supporting and helpful seniors around my loop.

    Reply
  2. Nishi

    Great article Kaushik. I am myself, a current ITDP student at UMICH. I second your thought, it takes a lot to come so far from our country and struggle with the every day odds. Dental education in US is not challenging, the things that surrounds it are. But I think the worst makes the best. I am enjoying everyday at my school and it gives me a feeling that my genes are getting evolvef to be superior in what I do and how I face the world. Nice article !!!

    Reply
  3. Weaam

    You forget to mention getting in the waiting list to go to a dental school again after you pass the board too.and also the double measures and the not fair opportunities passed on your heritage and knowing someone in a dental school to pull you in to a dental school .talking about my experience. Sad

    Reply
    • Oza

      If you feel like you need to know someone in a dental school to pull you through, that is not the right school to be going to.

    • Kaushik H. Sharma

      Yes, I was wait listed too but now when I look back, I am much happier with my present. Most of my puzzles seem to be answered now.

      Well Weaam, I know what you are pointing too. But as Oza mentioned, it is a disaster to be at a school where you got in not on your own merits. Will you be proud to get your dental school degree without your own major contribution?
      I have witnessed them but I don’t follow them.

      It definitely makes it harder but on a long run, you are much better off and it brings a lot of opportunities to your overall professional development.

  4. Nassima

    Along with all these challenges, talk about work experience! Really! got both board exams but can not get to a dental school until providing proof of work experience or volunteering in the US????? way to go Dr.Koshik, you are a real inspiration but just remember some people are not as lucky!

    Reply
    • Oza

      I am an IDP too. Neither I nor several of my classmates ever had any clinical work experience in the USA. In my particular case, local community service overshadowed the lack of work experience or clinical volunteering. Just an idea to maybe help your luck.

    • Kaushik H. Sharma

      Hi Nassima,

      I know that we overemphasize on some of the things and overlook other opportunities.

      I will tell you my story of shadowing at dental offices. I used to live in Hackensack, NJ while doing my MPA. I met over 10 practicing dentists at their offices to let me shadow and learn about US dental care. Guess what, none of them said yes, I didn’t give up on my efforts. One day I got lucky and shadowed at an Oral Surgeon’s practice for over 4 months. Let’s say if had no dental experience in US by shadowing, there are many other volunteer opportunities available in healthcare. I used to be American Red Cross Blood Volunteer too.

      Ultimately, it is your GPA, current academic standing, awards/scholarships which makes a strong paper application. Work experience, community service, and other stuff comes second in my opinion.

      Keep your chin up, work harder and good things will happen to you. Good luck!

  5. Lee DMD

    Practicing in the US and having a number of newly graduated dentists at my practice over the years, I firmly believe that we need to reconsider how we allow those people who are licensed in other countries to practice once they come here. It makes no sense for you to have to go to school twice, Kaushik.

    Reply
    • Kaushik H. Sharma

      Hello Dr. Lee,

      Believe me, I thought of your suggestion over 1000 times and I would have been very happy if it was true today. But, the reality is that I don’t see current regulations to go out of effect for some decades at least.

      Politicians and ASDA student lobbyists along with ADA should look in to your suggestion to reevaluate their policies on licensure for foreign trained dentists especially when there are people who need attention to dental needs as the current dental workforce is outnumbered by the prevailing dental problems.

      I believe that it will be addressed some time in future but don’t know exactly how soon it will be.

      Thank you for your suggestion.

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