I wanted to improve my skills after graduation in 2011. I had received my Bachelor of Dental Surgery in India and desired advanced training. I decided to apply to an accredited U.S. dental school.
The decision seemed simple, but I soon realized the amount of materials required for the application. I needed to take assessments like the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT) examination. I had to apply to schools using the American Dental Education Association Centralized Application for Advanced Placement for International Dentists (ADEA CAAPID). Many schools required supplemental documents as a part of the application. I also needed to prepare for interviews and for the bench examinations. International dentists encounter several barriers during the application process when applying to dental schools.
First, international dentists must secure a U.S. visa to take the NBDE. Visitor visas are not generally issued for taking the exams. One option is to enroll in a Master’s program. Once enrolled, students are eligible for a student visa. An alternative option is to apply for a dependent visa. The dependent visa will permit taking the examinations. In numerous cases, foreign dentists fail to receive a visa and do not even apply. Not only is a visa important for examinations, it is important for gaining work experience.
Most of the U.S. schools prefer to see evidence of work experience. Unfortunately, not all international candidates are eligible to work. Even with a visa, some dental centers refuse to let international dentists volunteer as assistants. Personally, I struggled to get work experience because of my visa status. To gain experience, I started volunteering for a community clinic. Only after getting a legal work permit was I able to work as a dental assistant.
The ADEA CAAPID is for foreign-trained dentists to apply to dental school in the U.S. or Canada. The process is similar to the ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS). Like the AADSAS, test scores and application fees are submitted to each school applied to. CAAPID fees and supplemental fees add to the financial burden of applying. The application investment can deter qualified applicants. Adding to the fiscal load, students purchase materials to practice for the bench examination.
Bench examinations are administered by individual schools. The exam assesses three major topics: fixed prosthodontics, removable prosthodontics and operative dentistry. Practicing for the bench exam requires dental equipment and instruments. It also requires a typodont, replacement teeth and dental loupes. Multiple schools and private institutes offer preparation courses for the bench test. Course fees can vary greatly between private institutes and public universities. Performance on the bench exam can improve a student’s application and chances to matriculate.
Once accepted, the majority of students need to apply for loans to afford tuition. Candidates without a green card are not eligible for federal loans. To obtain private loans, a permanent resident or citizen cosigner is required. Securing a cosigner can be difficult for students. In a few cases, candidates defer admissions due to the absence of a cosigner. Once successful, an international dentist begins the journey to licensure in the U.S.
International dentists value Advanced Standing Programs. They offer an unprecedented opportunity to further education, develop clinical skill and improve manual dexterity. The path for advancement is filled with obstacles. Do not perceive the barriers as hindrances, but steps to becoming licensed in the U.S.
Please refer to ASDA’s “Tips for International Dental Students” for more information on applying.
Shruti Singh, predental member