Internationally Trained Dentists Pursue American Dreams

New UMKC program provides path to dental degree in the United States
dental students and faculty in lab

Nine dentists from as far away as Cuba and India will begin their dream of practicing in the United States at the UMKC School of Dentistry thanks to a new program at the school.

The advanced standing dental education program, launched at the school in January, will enable these practitioners and all those who follow them in the program to work as dentists in the United States. Without programs like this, dentists from other countries face limited options to practice oral health care in the U.S.

“It’s going to be a life-changing opportunity for these students,” said Gustavo Leal, interim director of the advanced standing program. “These students are fighters who have been working hard to achieve this dream.”

The advanced standing students will finish their dental degree in 2 1/2 years, compared to students in the traditional degree program, who attend school for four years. The shorter timeline condenses two years of coursework into six months, and includes labs, lectures, pre-clinic skills training and exposure to different disciplines. According to Leal, students in the program proved in their skill tests and board exams that they had the knowledge base and skills to handle the accelerated timeline.

The students will join the existing third-year students in the fall of 2024, following the same timeline the next two years. The first cohort of nine students began the program in January and are slated to graduate in May 2027.

According to Dean Steven Haas, around 2010, dental schools started to open avenues for internationally trained dentists, enabling them to avoid the burden of going back to school for an additional four years. With 93 such programs in the United States, UMKC is one of many universities offering a similar path to practicing in the United States. The demand for the program speaks for itself. UMKC received 380 applications for the nine spots available in its first class.

For Haas, these practitioners represent a critical influx of oral health care providers who can address the shortage of oral health care providers in Missouri, where 111 counties are considered underserved, according to the Rural Health Information Hub. Haas said that Dekalb County in northwest Missouri has only one dentist for 10,480 people.

“We know that we need dentists in these rural areas,” Haas said. “By opening up our classes to internationally trained dentists, we’re able to get more oral health care providers out there.”

All third- and fourth-year students complete rotations in a variety of settings, including rural dental clinics.
Haas said that it’s important that the program diversify the oral health care workforce as well.

“Our population is changing,” Haas said. By 2050 or 2060, our population will look a lot different. I think dentistry should mirror that demographic shift.”

Haas said that current students will benefit from the infusion of this geographically diverse group of students.

dental students in practice lab

For advanced student Flavia Santos Bada, the program will enable her to practice in the U.S. and help support her family, especially her father, who needs specialized medical care.

Originally from Cuba, Bada immigrated to the United States in 2018 after graduating from dental school there. She joined her parents and sister, who had moved to the U.S. for better medical care for Bada’s father, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Family is important to her, and UMKC is a good fit.

“The school’s focus on putting patients first captured my attention,” Bada said. “I want to treat people, not just as my patients, as if they were my family.”

For Hadrik Patel, UMKC’s Midwestern location was critical in his decision to apply to the advanced standing program. Originally from India, he was practicing as a dental assistant in Nebraska. He said he was already comfortable in the Midwest, so when UMKC’s program opened up, he immediately applied.

His first few months in the program have confirmed his excitement for the school.

“What has stood out is how many of the faculty are UMKC alumni,” Patel said. “I think that says a lot about the school. They wanted to come back to UMKC to ensure students achieve the same success they have.”

According to Leal, the program introduces more diversity into the student body, providing them with a much different perspective at a personal level as well as professional level. The advanced practice students have worked in the field and provide expertise to current students.

“I am excited to see their progression and how they incorporate themselves with the other dental students,” Leal said. “It’s a great opportunity for our students to grow while providing an opportunity for these practitioners to achieve their dreams.”

Learn more about School of Dentistry

Published: May 1, 2024

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