A lot of students get involved in academic programs while in their gap years. Becoming a student at a program like MPH (Masters in Public Health) is looked at favorably by a majority of international dentist admission committees. It shows commitment, perseverance and an interest in pursuing higher education in the United States.
Dr. Nayanika Sanga, a BDS graduate from India, completed an MPH program at the University of Alabama (UAB) and utilized her program to build her resume. She was able to widen her network, improve public speaking and communication skills, and connect with mentors, all of which would later help her gain admission to the University of Michigan for her DDS.
Nayanika is now a graduate of UMich DDS 2020.
Following is an excerpt of her interview.
SD: You did an MPH program for 2 years before getting into a DDS program at the University of Michigan. What specifically did you do at the MPH program that you felt helped at interviews and ultimately land your acceptance?
NS: The MPH program is a wonderful way to understand the healthcare system in the US, get comfy with the educational environment here and build a network of supporters.
You can make anything you want out of your MPH.
It is essentially a public health degree that attracts a wide, diverse diaspora of professionals- engineers, dentists and doctors to name a few. I used my MPH program to connect the dots between public health in the US and my training in clinical dentistry from India. My eventual goal was to get admitted to a DDS program and because I made that clear to my program mentor, she helped me connect with faculty at the dental school at UAB.
These connections helped me train for my bench test and find mentors who would later write my letters of recommendation.
One of the professors I met at the dental school asked me what I could help him with. I was undergoing training with statistics and epidemiology at the time, and told him I could help write his abstracts. Mentorship is a two-way process. Always ask how you can be of help to others and they will in turn make way to help you.
I volunteered at several CE events, shadowed local dentists in the area, all while taking a full load of credits, prepping for the NBDE boards and completing research papers. At the same time, I was working three part-time jobs to fund my MPH.
It was overwhelming!! This time became an important lesson in organization.
During my MPH training, I realized how committed I am to continuing my education in clinical dentistry with a DDS. I had the opportunity to introspect and make sure I was on the right path. I was and still am grateful for that.
I had the opportunity to present a research paper during my MPH at the Annual Symposium conducted by the UAB School of Dentistry. I ended up getting 2nd place. This opportunity and the preceding academic work I did became a common conversation point at some of my in-person interviews!
Letters of Recommendation
I received letters of recommendation from people I met at my MPH program. Some of the letters were written by faculty who were intimately aware of the process foreign dentists go through to get a DDS. Their letters addressed a lot of the character qualities and professional values that a school is looking for, as opposed to a letter written by a general (non- academic) dentist who does not know much about the BDS to DDS process.
SD: How many interviews did you attend and what was the timeline like?
NS: I interviewed throughout my time as an MPH student. In my first year, I applied late and interviewed at only three schools. In my final year, I interviewed at 7 or more schools, got accepted at 2 and waitlisted at the rest.
I met you at the UW during my first interview cycle, and asked you questions on how to improve my candidacy. You recommended I be the first to apply to every school because of the admissions being ‘rolling’’.
I did not realize the value of putting in my applications early until the time I did what you said in my next cycle and automatically got double the interviews!
This also taught me to use interviews as a networking opportunity and meet more people, ask more questions.
Applying to a ton of schools requires juggling money orders, paperwork and essays, along with everything else. The best advice I can give here is to organize well ahead of time and to maximize your chances of getting interviews by putting in your paperwork as early as possible.
SD: You did a non-traditional bench test training. Can you talk about it?
NS: I did not take Duggans or Puneet Sandhu’s course. Everyone I knew was talking about those courses. I decided to trust my instinct and mentors. I relied on my Prosthodontics professor in India and a strong set of coaches at UAB, many friends admitted to IDP programs, to critique my work honestly.
An important thing I’d like to share here is to not be shy. I remember asking which burs we should use for a class II cavity prep. I knew a certain set of burs from my training in India but wanted to know if those were the same ones used here in America. Be open to getting feedback and learning from everyone.
SD: The interviews are a stressful place to be! What are some tips you can give to people preparing for interviews?
NS: 1. I function better with familiarity. Being in Ann Arbor, MI about 6 months prior to my interview, I had the opportunity to to visit the school and meet a friend studying there. She took me to the sim lab and showed me where the bench test would be held. The hallways and the cafeteria also became familiar to me. This helped when I went in for my interview, because I felt confident.
2. The most stressful thing in an interview is the bench test. Timing myself at home while preparing, doing mock exams and then having work critiqued by others, helped!
Practice, practice and practice more!
3. You need to recognize your weaknesses. The interview is going to test your physical, mental, and emotional limits. I have a ton of food allergies and although every school did their best to accommodate my restrictions, there was always some ingredient in the food that would bring me down the rest of the day. Like most of us, when I’m hungry or unwell, I can’t concentrate as well. After recognizing this weakness, I made sure I always carried good home- cooked food every preparation day including the day of the interview. I still give credit to the tiramisu I had for acing my Michigan bench exam!!
Try to think that your interview/bench test day is like any other day so you can think clearly and be your true self. Sleeping and eating well is super important, you want to be at your best!
SD: What advice would you give to someone with a few cycles of rejection behind them?
NS: This is IT! This is your toughest phase and it is as tough as it could get. Hang in there and trust the process. BELIEVE in yourself, because things are worth it at the end of this! Remind yourself that you have the training and the skillset for this, and you will most certainly prevail!
Looking for more content on how to become a foreign trained dentist? I am working on a handbook for foreign trained dentists! An effort to bring together information from program directors, students, dentists, practice owners and educators on their journey from BDS to DDS aka how they achieved their ‘American Dream!’
Stay tuned, ask questions!