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Pathway to residency

A lot of foreign trained dentists move to the US for a DDS with the eventual goal of pursuing a residency. Several of them consider pursuing residency programs directly. Is it difficult? Yes! Is it possible? Also, yes!

Below is an excerpt of an interview I conducted with one of my closest friends, Manali Vora MPH BDS, who is currently a Periodontics Resident at UConn- 2023. The complete interview will be published in the Foreign Trained Dentist Handbook by mid 2021.

SD: You worked for 2 years as a postdoc after MPH and are now pursuing your dream goal of Perio Residency. Was it challenging to find schools willing to take foreign trained dentists as residents? 

MV. This is a great question! Taking the steps towards doing a perio residency was not easy. All program directors are very welcoming and invite questions from applicants. They are also very honest. While doing my postdoc at UCSF, I met with a lot of program directors, and asked them all what they were looking for in an applicant, and what I should be doing to improve my candidacy. Many of them told me the same thing- not having any US clinical experience will be a cause of concern. They are all looking for students who will not have any trouble getting used to the rigorous clinical pace of residency life.

So yes, I was definitely nervous about applying to programs, and I’ll be honest here-  I did not get a lot of interviews. The interviews I did get however were very nice, and I was fortunate enough to be matched at my favorite program!

Most residencies welcome applicants of a foreign trained background, and they like some kind of clinical experience in the US. Many schools don’t even require you to give your NBDE. However, because competition is tough, you as a foriegn trained dentist definitely need to do a lot more and have a more packed resume compared to a typical US or canadian trained dentist. 

Coming to the US as a resident, straight after dental school from another country is a lot harder because of all these factors!

SD: How would a dentist with a BDS from another part of the world prepare for applying to residency programs in the US?

MV: If you are interested in a residency program, your first point is to go to the PASS website. It is packed with resources. 

Most people applying to post grad programs in India, for example, are open to multiple branches. An important distinction to make here is that in the US, you apply to only one branch! You have to show serious intention towards one specific branch and demonstrate why you want to do the program. Commitment is what all programs are looking for. 

Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

Start with the PASS website, look at all the schools participating, then study all the school websites, look at their prerequisites. Some don’t accept your application unless you have a green card or are a US citizen. However, you are not limited, there are plenty of programs that will accept you despite your immigration status! Have a checklist of schools,  get organized. 

I personally applied to about 15 programs. If you’re not in the US and are not familiar with the system, it does get tough. You have to time yourself to ensure your application reaches early and is complete.

There are also externship opportunities at many schools. you can go shadow at a program you are interested in, for a few days to a week. This helps you network, understand how the system works, and meet residents. 

I am serious here: I took 2 years to understand the system and apply properly to PASS, I didn’t realize how much time it takes. I would recommend everyone to start early and get organized. 

SD: Do you know how many people applied, interviewed at your program?

MV: 20 people were interviewed and 2 were accepted. I am not completely sure how many people applied, I am guessing there were at least a  couple hundred. 

I interviewed only in smaller programs, this was a personal preference. Odds of you matching at your favorite program are not too high. Give yourself plenty of time to get into the program you want to be in. 

SD: Applications, travel and externship opportunities sound expensive. How did you finance your journey to and through residency?

MV: I was working for a few years and was saving up for applications. 

There is tuition mentioned very clearly on every program website, be realistic with yourself, can you afford this? Include previous years fee to cost of living, books and food. Some programs are extremely expensive, keep this in mind when you apply. Once you match to a program you do have to pay up! A matching process means you get one acceptance and not multiple. 

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

On that note, there’s a limit, to how much you can borrow from banks too.

If your fees are too high, that may become a problem. All those things should work in sync, once you match you can always apply for a private loan- I, personally, had to have a US citizen cosign my loan. Having someone cosign your loan is a big deal, they are acting like your guarantee.

Financing is tricky but let that not be the reason you don’t consider higher education. Remember that the money is investment in yourself. You will be able to pay off your student loans. 

You could get private loans from US banks, or take a loan from India, or whoever country you come from. If you’ve just finished dental school in your home country, know that you may or may not qualify for a big loan. Educational loans from your home country tend to also require collateral. Non collateral loans are usually very small and don’t cover US tuition.

SD: What is some advice you can give to hopeful applicants?

MV: Everything before matching was pure tortue, however matching into UConn just made all of it feel worth it!!!

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

Don’t underestimate your competition. Waiting between the application and matching, is truly nerve wracking. But, keep going!! Have patience and hang in there. 

This is a series of blog posts aimed at helping foreign trained dentists make a decision about continuing their professional training in the US. All of these blog posts are part of a larger, detailed handbook for foreign trained dentists, that I am hoping to publish mid 2021. Excited? Me too!

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