For Dentists Trained Abroad, a Bridge to a U.S. Career

Tufts hosts ‘International Dentist Bootcamp’
An illustration showing a world map, Irina Dragon, Gabriela Lagreca, and the Tufts School of Dental Medicine.
Tufts University School of Dental Medicine faculty members and alumni Irina Dragan, left, and Gabriela Lagreca co-direct the International Dentist Bootcamp. Illustration: Momo Shinzawa
March 9, 2021

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Gayathri Shenoy graduated from dental school in India. But when she moved to the United States, her professional accreditation did not travel with her.

“I needed to go back to dental school and repeat two years of clinical training,” said Shenoy, DI17, DG20, during a Tufts University School of Dental Medicine webinar. “I was not prepared for the process at all, and I was starting from scratch.” Shenoy went on to receive her second dental degree from Tufts, and continued through a postgraduate residency; she now practices periodontics in suburban Philadelphia.

Shenoy was in the same boat as hundreds of dentists from around the world who want to practice in the United States. To qualify for a dental license in any state, they need to complete anywhere from two to three years of training at an American dental school. Competition for these spots is tight, and the application process—especially while maneuvering through a new culture—can be daunting.

Since 1956, the Dental International Student (DIS) program at the School of Dental Medicine has been preparing foreign-trained dentists for American practice. To give prospective students an idea of what lies ahead, and how best to navigate the process, the dental school has developed an online “International Dentist Bootcamp.” The two-day program, which will be live-streamed, will take place March 18-19, in connection with Global Tufts Month.

The program will also address the application process for foreign-trained dentists seeking to attend dental specialty and advanced education programs in the United States.

“I wanted to see if I could live my American dream,” said Irina Dragan, DG15, MSD15, DI19, assistant professor of periodontology and one of the bootcamp directors, recalling her decision to come to the United States from Romania. Looking back, she remembered how challenging the application process was. Even though she had gotten advice from European colleagues, the model of dental education and admissions are different in the United States—and then there are the differences among the 31 American dental schools that offer international programs.

“I only got information from individual perspectives,” Dragan said. With panelists from other U.S. dental schools that offer international programs, and staff from the Tufts international Center who will talk about visa requirements and other nuts-and-bolts issues, the bootcamp is designed to provide a broad picture. Other speakers will include school deans, current international students, alumni, faculty, and representatives from the American Dental Education Association. 

A key activity will be developing an action plan, said Gabriela Lagreca, DG12, DG15, DI23, assistant professor of prosthodontics and codirector of the program with Dragan. Lagreca originally trained in her home country of Venezuela and hosts The International Dentist podcast.

The program will also address the realities of the COVID age, where on-campus visits have been curtailed and interviews are now conducted online. Since many countries rely solely on grades and test scores for dental-program admissions, the rounds of personal interviews that are a vital part of the American process can be particularly stressful. “I didn’t realize that I’d have to share my story five times,” recalled Dragan. Now, prospective students have to take lighting, webcam angles, and the color of their outfit into account as well. (Dragan and Lagreca recommend wearing blue.)

“It’s important to understand who you are as an applicant,” Lagreca said—not just the strengths you bring to each school, but how the individual programs mesh with your goals. “I don’t think I was aware of that at all when I came here 10 years ago.”

Helene Ragovin can be reached at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu.

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