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Why Internships or Fellowships Are Recommended for International Dentists

Posted by Swati Gupta, M.D.S., B.D.S. on December 16, 2020

The United States, one of the finest countries in the world for dentistry, can also require a substantial investment in both time and money for many international dentists who dream of practicing here. The first time I decided to pursue my dream to do a periodontics residency in the United States, I approached the director of a periodontics program in one school who then asked me to come for a six-month or one-year internship. Until that moment, the only internship I was aware of, was the one-year mandatory internship during the five-year completion of a Bachelor of Dental Medicine (B.D.S.) in India.

After some research, Google had a different answer for me! I learned quickly that internships and externships are recommended for many international students who are keen to continue their career in dentistry in the United States. My first thoughts were, “I have already received a master’s in dental surgery (M.D.S.) in Periodontology. Why would I have to do an internship to reassure myself or the school of my interest in the program?” As I scrolled further to look at the details of the internship, I was stunned when I saw the tuition fees. This is not an inexpensive process in any currency! However, it didn’t deter me from applying to dental schools, so I kept looking for other options.

In the serendipitous turn of events, I was offered a sponsored Implant Fellowship at the University of Florida College of Dentistry in the Department of Periodontics. That one-year fellowship introduced me to a different world, where dentistry was not practiced the same way as it is in my home country of India. Here is a brief overview of what I learned during my year of fellowship and why I think internships, externships or fellowships are important, especially for international dentists.

While in Rome, Do as the Romans Do

When I came to the United States, I noticed subtle differences in the workplace ethics and culture. For example, if someone else is asked a question and they are unable to answer, it is unwise to interrupt or boast about your knowledge. It is considered offensive in the United States, unlike in schools in India. Students are expected to respect the concept of team effort and punctuality, among other attributes. Etiquette like this, which might seem to be miniscule for some, are important to know prior to joining a professional course. No one wants to be off-putting for reasons unknown!

Determining the Right Fit

The purpose of a school inviting an international student for internships, externships or fellowships is to get to know the student’s behavior, their reasons for pursuing a D.D.S./D.M.D./M.S. in the United States and to determine the compatibility within the program on a personal and professional level. It might sound very subjective, but it makes sense if you look at the bigger picture.

There are thousands of applicants applying to dental schools every year. With the limited number of seats available, getting into a dental school or residency is very competitive. Schools and directors of a program have a huge task to select students who are very competitive, academically competent and have admirable personal traits. A CV and personal statement will only work as candlelight in a dark room. To get a complete picture of an applicant and to understand their motivations in order to establish the nature of compatibility of students with the school’s or program’s objective, schools usually advise students to visit the school for shadowing or externships. I personally think that this is advantageous for the applicant too. They are given a chance to see the school or the department in person, while also showcasing their abilities, personal attributes, professional demeanor and knowledge alongside determining if the program is a good fit for them too.

Balancing Personal Goals

Lastly, most important is to be sure of your choices. Living abroad, so far away from home is a very courageous decision. If you are a homebound person/have never left the comforts of your home, an internship is the right choice for you rather than jumping right into a dental program. I have known a couple of dentists who have changed their course after six months of internship due to the challenges faced in their personal lives. Living alone in another country and celebrating few festivals far from one’s family could be isolating. On the contrary, this internship period could turn out to be the best experience of a lifetime, too, and could encourage you to steer your boat right ahead into the professional program.

So, my advice for aspiring international dentists is to take the risk and look for six-month or one-year internships before applying for D.D.S. or residency programs, for it is worth it!

About Swati Gupta, M.D.S., B.D.S.:

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Swati Gupta, M.D.S., B.D.S.

Gainesville, FL

Swati Gupta, M.D.S., B.D.S., completed her Master of Dental Surgery (M.D.S.) in Periodontology from Manipal University, India, in 2014. She has authored systematic reviews and original research articles in peer-reviewed journals as well as worked on nationally funded grants. Dr. Gupta came to the United States for an Astra Implant Fellowship from the University of Florida. She is currently working on research with a professor from University of Milan, Italy, and teaches international dental students a national dental board exam prep course. Dr. Gupta is hoping to apply for residency in Periodontology soon and to work in academia. Outside of work, she enjoys gardening and travelling with her husband, Andrew.