By Carrie Mauterer, D.D.S., CDA Editor
From the Winter 2022 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association
There are days when I reflect on my journey to become a dentist and I think to myself, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” After I attend the commencement celebrations for the International Student Program (ISP) of the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine last month, I thought to myself, “Quit your whining, Mauterer.” The ISP is a unique and intense program, offering dentists from other countries the opportunity to take an accelerated two-year doctorate program to qualify for licensure in the U.S. The amount of education these students commit themselves to is truly inspirational, as are their stories of survival, asylum, resilience and grit.
On Dec. 8, I was honored to join the celebrations as the 15th graduating ISP class joined our big CU family by being awarded the distinction of a University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine D.D.S. degree.
Prior to relocating to the U.S., students in the ISP earned their dental degrees in other countries and many practiced in the profession overseas. Oftentimes, the ISP students balance raising children while meeting the challenges of the very intense two-year program. During the graduation ceremony each year, you hear how many students came to America to escape difficult circumstances in their countries of origin. You hear many stories of students coming to our nation to find freedom of speech, religion, and the promise of safety for themselves and their families.
Each year as I participate in this graduation ceremony, I am awed by the strength, grit and resilience of these students as they overcame adversity I could only imagine. My alumni pride swelled as I learned how our state school has been able to offer a chance to these students to achieve their professional dreams.
The ceremony began by acknowledging the students who not only accomplished graduating from an intensive accelerated doctorate program, but also earned citizenship or permanent residency in the U.S. As they read the names of these students, my eyes started tearing up. It is all too often that I take my American citizenship for granted. In moments like these (and every 4th of July, might I add) I stop to pause and feel deeply grateful for our country and the freedoms that we enjoy and continue to protect.
I want to share some of the biographies read about a handful of these students just to give you a sample of the inspiring stories shared on the night of Dec. 8:
“Dr. Vladyslav Virun is from Kyiv, Ukraine. He graduated in 2015, but was eager to pursue the American pioneer spirit ever since his first visit to the U.S. in 2011. He supported himself as an Uber driver and a dental assistant in Chicago for a couple years before the program.”
“Dr.Veronica Toca Sone is from Caracas, Venezuela, where she practiced as a general dentist and an oral surgeon before emigrating to the U.S. for a better life for her family, arriving in Austin, TX. Her 15-year journey in dentistry is more than a career, it is her passion.” She was awarded the 2021 Pierre Fauchard Academy Award during the graduation ceremony.
“Dr. Kamini Masilamani is from Chennai, India. She moved to the U.S. in 2015 to give wings to her hopes, dreams and ambitions. Kamini believes in hard work and persistence and feels that her hands and mind make her a passionate dentist.” Dr. Masilamani was awarded the 2021 International College of Dentists Award during the graduation ceremony.
“Dr. Abhay Dalal is from Surat, India. He practiced dentistry for four years before he moved to the U.S. in 2017 due to his passion for dentistry and to attain professional satisfaction. He completed various shadowing experiences and CE in New York, Boston and Chicago to prepare himself for dental school in the U.S. He will be joining a community dental clinic in Missouri and hopes to pursue a career in dental anesthesiology in the future.” Dr. Dalal was awarded the 2021 American College of Dentists Award during the graduation ceremony.
“Dr. Aadya Sharma is from Gurgaon, India. She completed a master’s degree in oral and maxillofacial surgery. She moved to become a licensed dentist in the U.S. and did her national boards and some shadowing before starting the ISP. After enjoying the practice of oral and maxillofacial surgery in India, Dr. Sharma is looking forward to practicing general dentistry in Madison, WI.” Dr. Sharma was awarded the 2021 Student Achievement Award conferred by the American Association of Endodontists and the Award for Excellence in Endodontics.
“Dr. Yanairde Somarriba is from Cienfuegos, Cuba. She practiced general dentistry and supervised 80 employees as a director of a dental clinic before she came to the U.S. in 2012 seeking freedom of thought, speech and religion.” The 2021 Dr. Victoria Saniukovich Humanitarian Award was given this year to Dr. Somarriba.
You could see the pride of the CU ISP faculty as they announced each graduate, especially by the Immediate Past Director of the International Student Program Dr. Elizabeth Towne, the current Director Dr. Krithika Baskaran, and the Assistant Director Dr. Viensuong Nguyen. Dean Denise Kassebaum was practically beaming during the ceremony, displaying her pride in a class of students who have risen above daunting circumstances.
Most of the biographies of the students included the location where each student will be practicing dentistry after graduation. Most of these amazing doctors will be practicing dentistry in a state other than Colorado. Although their time in our great state was brief, I was happy to see photos of their Colorado adventures while they studied here. There were also countless pictures of the students sharing different aspects of their cultures with each other and supporting each other through their two-year journey.
I wanted to spotlight the ISP in this issue of the CDA Journal and applaud our international colleagues. I am proud of our dental school for identifying an unmet need and developing an accelerated program that allows internationally trained dentists a faster pathway into the dental profession in America. This is just another example of the excellence in leadership and innovation in Colorado. You are truly amongst giants while you practice dentistry in this great state.
Photo courtesy: Ken Mostek Photography