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The International Dentist Pathway (IDP), a candid experience shared by Rahul Nagda, BDS, DDS

It is my pleasure to introduce a special guest writer - our friend and colleague Rahul Nagda, BDS, DDS. Rahul completed the IDP program at UCSF in 2020 and he is a current second-year pediatric dental resident at the UCSF School of Dentistry.

Because the IDP student experience is vastly different than that of the domestic US experience, Wilson and I sought the perspective of our knowledgable friend on how he navigated a new educational system in the United States and found success in gaining not only admissions to dental school but also pediatric residency. We want to share his advice in hopes that you, whether you are an IDP pre-dental student or a current IDP dental student, may gain a new perspective on chartering your American Dream through dentistry here in the US!

Without further ado, here are Rahul's words of wisdom in a recently conducted interview with Jenny:

Tell me about yourself.

Hi, my name is Rahul Nagda and I am 30 years old. I grew up in Mumbai, a major city in India. I spent my entire childhood and early adulthood in India prior to coming to the US. There, I went to dental school in Mumbai. In India, we go to dental school for five years total after high school. After dental school, I practiced dentistry in India for 1.5 years and prepared for NBDE with the hopes of one day coming to the US to practice dentistry. During that time, I came to the US to shadow a dental office. It took me three application cycles to gain acceptance and in 2018 to UCSF. It was an extremely persistent journey, but as I am more than halfway through pediatric residency now, I am hopeful to say that every hurdle was worth it.


What motivated you to pursue dentistry in the US?

I am the first person from my family to come to the US and get a higher education and I decided to come to the United States for an improved quality of education. The US is a leader in establishing a safe dental protocol and in following evidence-based dentistry. In comparison, dentistry in India is not as well-regulated. In terms of quality of life, the saturation of dentists was high, the pay was not well, and awareness of oral health in India was not ideal.


What are some hardships you experienced in applying to IDP programs here in the US?

The biggest hardship is the immigration process. For a country like India, there is a huge backlog of students wanting to come to the US. It is possible you will have to be on a work visa for a long time and as a result, finding an employer that will sponsor a work visa is challenging.

In terms of personal family life balance, if you have a family, this can heavily impact your personal life. My wife is also a dentist who also went through the same IDP process who went to UCLA school of dentistry. We came to the US to be together, and as a sacrifice, have been long-distance for the past few years. My biggest advice is to be open-minded in the process and be hopeful of your end goal in mind.


Can you describe your application process?

Transparently speaking, I applied to the dental school through the IDP application three times and was accepted on my third try. I will dive into what I learned through each process applying.

When I applied for the first time to 15 schools, there were very few resources online, which is why I’m passionate about sharing my story. I struggled most with writing a resume, personal statement, and didn’t truly understand the American educational system. I did get 1 interview invitation and ultimately was rejected.

For the second time, I wanted to improve my application and joined the UCLA preceptorship program. This is an observation period of residents, did literature work, etc. I also worked as a research assistant and got involved in stem cell research. During that time, I had more interaction with faculty and dental students and truly understood how to write a personal statement, etc. It was here that I learned what a dental school wants in applicants. Then, I applied to 5 schools and did not receive interviews.

For my third cycle, I completed the preceptorship and got a wonderful LOR and got 4 invites and accepted in 2. The difference here was that I now had a full year of the preceptorship and the opportunities associated underway. During this time, I was able to connect with researchers and faculty who mentored me. It was at this point that I felt more comfortable with what dental schools are looking for in a competitive applicant.


As a resident now, do you still feel there are challenges specific to IDP students?

For residency applications, schools prefer US citizens. This resulted in fewer residency interviews for me and my IDP colleagues. About 30-40% of residencyprograms accept F1 visas. I felt that for me, opportunities were limited so I had to work harder than my dental student counterparts. I had less than a year to put my residency application together and was very intentional with how I spent my time. From day 1, I shadowed the pediatric residents, involved myself in peds community service, etc.

An additional challenge is the financial logistics. I pay out-of-state tuition even though I am a CA resident. For the future, I have an F1 work visa and my goal is to find an employer who will sponsor me which can be stressful.


How was the IDP experience at UCSF working at Buchanan? Did you feel you got to further develop your skills?

In my final year of ID4, I was fortunate to practice dentistry at the Buchannan clinic with assistants and faculty. Our class had a cohort of 28 students total. Now, unfortunately, the program has drastically changed since the covid-19 pandemic. Faculty were laid off and assistants were let go.

I can only speak to my experience and truthfully, I did feel frustrated at times with the IDP curriculum. For example, I did one root canal and a few fillings, however, my residency training has been really redeeming. I would say that in residency now, I am learning the most now that I have ever in the US.

For a more in-depth conversation on Rahul's IDP experience, please view his vlog here:


If you are an IDP pre-dental student and would like to seek assistance in your personal statement or mock interview practice, please email us at or send us a message in our chatbox to your right.


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