After over a decade of working as a general dentist in England, my wife and I decided to move to her hometown, Los Angeles. This decision brought one huge implication: My dental degree and license were not accepted by the state of California. So I set out to enter a program for international dentists, which meant spending at least two years in dental school again.
My first dental degree was from the University of Manchester, which I earned in 2006. I was far removed from much of the didactics, and covering material for both parts of the National Board Dental Examinations was a struggle. I was happy to be accepted into UCLA following a bench exam and interview in October 2017.
I began the course in May 2018. When I arrived at UCLA, I came in with an air of confidence — a decorated, successful young clinician from England. I had won the Young Dentist of the Year competition at the annual National Dentistry Awards in the U.K. It soon became apparent that while there was a sense of respect from my counterparts due to my experience and portfolio of work on social media, it held no significance (as it should not) from the school’s perspective. I was just another student and was treated equally.
I entered a boot-camp-style semester before the start of the third year of dental school. This was testing all theory and practical skills that the local students did over the first two years. This included many exams on subjects such as general medicine and radiology. Fortunately, the material I learned for the board exams was relatively fresh in my mind, so I was able to navigate this process easily. I quickly learned the differences with school and was adapting to the change.
Soon after this, our class of 20 integrated with the larger dental class. Although they had been together for two years at this point and seemed to be a close-knit unit, I felt welcomed. There was a silent consensus that we knew a lot about clinical procedures and could help impart some of that knowledge. As an incoming student, I felt that I could learn a lot about the system and protocols at UCLA.
As clinics began, I became aware of a huge difference between school and private practice. Being checked on the simplest restorations and cleanings is a humbling process. In private practice, we seem to be on autopilot. However, becoming a student again brought theory to the forefront, and I found myself discussing with faculty the exit angles of my preparation and the level of taper. The course felt like the sabbaticals that academic professors take but for my dental career.
The level of detail taught at UCLA is something I don’t remember having until I took more CE courses and improved my level of knowledge during my time in England. Maturity plays a large role in this. Dental school in the U.K. does not require an undergraduate degree. I began at 18, and I was a doctor at 23. There are more mature students here; some have even completed a Ph.D. after their undergraduate degree, making this entire experience more comforting.
What I found new at UCLA was doing lab work. At the University of Manchester, we had a department for laboratory prosthetics, and we would take impressions or any further clinical stage of denture construction, and the next step was fabricated for us. This has been the most challenging for me with my lack of experience in teeth setting. I hope this will be beneficial in working alongside dental technicians in the future.
This experience is difficult at times, and certainly not as easy as I assumed it would be. Time at school can be rewarding, though, and I am fortunate to have three-hour long clinical sessions to complete a single patient’s treatment, allowing us to work without the pressures faced in private practice. I feel blessed to be around motivating faculty who encourage the students to reach the level of excellence in their specialty and am optimistic about my future as a dentist here.
~Kazim Mirza, Los Angeles ’20