5 tips for applying to dental school as a foreign-trained dentist

“Congratulations on your acceptance to our dental program.”

No, I was not dreaming! In that one moment, all those tears and sleepless nights, hours of prepping plastic teeth, days of interview preparation and hundreds of dollars spent on applications and travel felt worth it. This is the one email every experienced dentist seeking to practice in the U.S. yearns to see in their inbox.

Yes, the most daunting yet exciting time for foreign-trained dentists applying to U.S. international dental programs is around the corner. How can you stand out and make the process less stressful? Here are five tips based on my recent experience applying to and graduating from an advanced doctoral program.

1. Play up your passions. Don’t let only grades and academic achievements define your application. Apply early and focus on highlighting personal qualities and unique life experiences to make your personal statement stand out. Other than dentistry, what are you passionate about doing? One experience that boosted my application was my decision to volunteer as an English tutor to help adults improve their reading and writing skills. Likewise, find causes close to your heart.

Do you play an instrument or have a favorite sport? I played chess and badminton for high school back in India and wrote about how it positively impacted my physical and mental health while also improving my hand-eye coordination. Extracurriculars reassure the admissions committee that you have the manual dexterity required to succeed in their program and, more importantly, have a life outside of dentistry that will work as an escape from stressful days. Schools have an eye for holistic, well-rounded candidates and you will be surprised at what could spark their interest.

2. Find good mentors. The application cycle and interview process can be overwhelming. What worked wonders for me was finding the right people to navigate through it. Current international dental program students are the best people to connect with as they have been in your shoes. Ask them to critique your tooth preparations and give insight into their school’s interview and bench exam process. I am humbled to have met selfless people who helped me at every step. Don’t forget to give back later and help others in need, too. Build true and meaningful relationships with faculty and employers to earn strong and heartfelt letters of recommendation.

3. Active involvement is key. My peers often ask me how to improve their profile. The answer: be proactive! Find dental assisting, shadowing and research opportunities at schools or private offices near you. This will help you become familiar with oral health care delivery specific to the United States and help schools understand you’re ready to face the rigorous demands of dental school coursework. Research opens avenues for future specialization and promotes critical thinking.

I’m grateful the research for my master’s degree in Oral Biology studying the effect of grape powder extract on periodontal disease was acknowledged by my interviewers, which led to interesting discussions that I could share. Moreover, it helped me better comprehend my subjects. Stepping out of your comfort zone by exploring new opportunities will help you grow personally and professionally.

Dr. Juili Shivde, Temple ‘22, with her husband and classmate, Dr. Soham Apte, Temple ’22, at the white coat ceremony of Temple University Kornberg School of Dentistry in 2021.

4. Roadblocks are your best teachers. The journey to dental school is full of highs and lows. Don’t get disheartened if you face rejections. Ask schools for feedback and be open to constructive criticism. Reflect on any shortcomings and address what may have impacted your application or interview. Having been out of touch with clinical dentistry for a while to pursue research, my biggest obstacle was getting my clinical hand skills back to a competitive level. I took this as a challenge and aced my bench exams. Similarly, identify your weaknesses and work on becoming a better version of yourself.

5. Enjoy the ride. The idea of becoming a licensed dentist in America resonated with me from day one and I worked my way through to achieve my goal. My biggest inspiration to study abroad was my physician parents who both completed their specialty training in the U.K. I specifically chose the U.S. to practice dentistry due to the evidence-based education system backed with ground-breaking technology, a patient-centered comprehensive treatment approach and the multitude of opportunities in clinical dentistry and research. What I’ve learned on my journey toward dental school is only what experience could have taught me.

Remember, every dental school candidate is unique and deserves to be heard. You don’t have to be perfect, only persistent. Be willing to make a difference. Stay true to yourself, be open to lifelong learning and celebrate both your failures and your achievements. If I could do it, so can you.

~ Dr. Juili Shivde, Temple ‘22

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