I knew I wanted to be a dentist since I was 15 years old, and when I turned 21, I decided to practice dentistry in the United States after graduating as a dentist in my home country, India. As I started to research this process, I came across a number of dental student forums and Facebook groups with an abundance of information. Unfortunately, because of the vastness, it was difficult to distinguish between what was false and what wasn’t. During this process, it is quite natural to feel overwhelmed. However, there are a few things foreign-trained dentists can do to achieve their goals in becoming dentists in the United States.
Visa and immigration
Although this may be something you want to figure out later, it is important to start applying for a visa and planning your visit to the United States soon. There are multiple options to gain entry, such as applying for a visit or gaining a student visa by pursuing a master’s or associate’s degree. The decision depends on your financial situation and persistence to seek additional education. Have a clear, well thought out plan as to what your end goal is.
Shadowing and work experience
Once you obtain entry into the country, call or email dental offices near you and see if there are any opportunities to shadow the dental team there. Be brief, polite and explain what you would like to gain out of the experience. Chances are, you are not the first person to approach the dentist for shadowing.
If the visa status permits, find a job as a dental assistant. This may seem like an arduous process, but by creating a strong resume and using established sources such as Indeed, ZipRecruiter or DentalPost, it will be less exhausting. This experience is valuable, as it helps you understand what the dental environment in the United States is like and what will be expected of you.
Volunteering as a dental assistant or doing other community work is not only a great way to make contacts, it also improves your self-esteem while you give back to the community. Contact your nearest dental association or visit its website to find volunteer opportunities. Be mindful of the dental camps and missions that are organized in your area. The American Dental Association lists a number of opportunities where you can volunteer locally and internationally.
Organized dentistry and networking
Being a part of ASDA or another organized dentistry association and having access to the resources they offer is beneficial, as they help keep you informed about the field. Every state has a dental association that holds conferences and other events, uniting the dental professionals who advocate on behalf of the profession and bring us the latest developments and trends.
Encountering cultural differences
Lastly, some of us may find a vast difference in the work culture in the United States and our home country. By shadowing, we can learn how to interact with patients and learn the terminology. Using the appropriate language and displaying a positive, cheerful attitude holds weight and will help us a lot in the long term.
While we may have been practicing dentists in our home country, taking advantage of the experience of being a student in the United States by constantly practicing newer methods will help us embrace the culture. Do not hesitate to unlearn some of the old ways of doing things. After all, adopting change and withstanding the test of time are what make us stand out.
~Jyothsna Manchikalapudi, international dentist