First International Dentist Program class graduates

For a special group of UAB School of Dentistry graduates, becoming a dentist marks the conclusion of their journey from foreign-trained to American-certified.

IDP class streamThe 2018 IDP graduating class has students from all parts of the world — from London to the Middle East. This past Saturday, 10 students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry became the first graduates of the school’s International Dentist Program, a curriculum that enables internationally trained dentists the opportunity to earn their Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry degrees and pursue licensure and practice in the United States.

While these students are certified dentists in their native countries and have treated patients in their prior dental experiences, they must complete an advanced standing education track and pass all additional licensing board examinations in order to become licensed in America. Without the International Dentist Program, foreign-trained dentists would have to start four-year dental school over from scratch or be limited to dental assistant positions in the United States.  

“The two-and-a-half-year curriculum offered by UAB prepares this advanced standing group of students for the practice of general dentistry in America, while introducing various aspects of specialty care and independent practice,” said Ken Tilashalski, DMD, associate dean of Academic Affairs in the School of Dentistry. “We recognize that these students have prior training and experience, so we really aim to acclimate them to American standards of dental treatment and provide the foundational clinical knowledge needed to excel in future practice.”

“It’s really been an excellent educational opportunity to learn from my IDP peers and their specific backgrounds, and then integrate our previous knowledge with what we have learned at UAB.”

Students enter their training at UAB in the second semester of the D2 year and focus on patient care philosophy and dental techniques, then integrate with traditional students in the remaining D3 and D4 years of schooling — years that focus specifically on clinical care and hands-on patient experience. Prior to the conception of UAB’s International Dentist Program, these foreign-trained dentists would have applied for dental school following the traditional path of a four-year dental program.

For students like Khushboo Aggarwal, a native of London, England, and graduate of King’s College, the emersion into UAB’s International Dentist Program has been one that shifted her perspective on dentistry as a whole.

“Being a part of IDP has been rewarding, as I have loved seeing different points of view from other students who have gone through different dental programs all over the world,” Aggarwal said. “It’s really been an excellent educational opportunity to learn from my IDP peers and their specific backgrounds, and then integrate our previous knowledge with what we have learned at UAB.”

Aggarwal notes that it has been eye-opening to observe the differences in access to dental care from England to America, as access to dental care is available in England in most circumstances, whereas in America it can be seen as a luxury to be able to see a dentist. The training and education provided to International Dentist Program students intends to address observations like Aggarwal’s, expanding upon the wide range of differences that these students may experience versus what is normal in their home countries.

For UAB School of Dentistry faculty involved with International Dentist Program students and curriculum development, there is tremendous pride for the program and high hopes for its continued success.

“There are so many things that have been rewarding about developing this program that I cannot possibly list them all,” said Sonya Mitchell, DMD, associate professor and director of Global Dentistry. “These students exude respect and dedication in their chosen profession, dentistry, and are genuinely interested in learning since they are choosing to go through dental school for a second time. My vision is that UAB’s IDP program continues to become well-recognized globally by international dentists and that we continue to attract quality applicants, thus improving the quality of dental care and talent that we provide.”