First international dental program at UCSF to prepare doctors of dental surgery

This month sixteen graduates of international dental schools will complete the first year in the UCSF School of Dentistry’s first International Dental Program (IDP).

“UCSF was asked in 1997 by the California state legislature to consider providing this program for international dentists,” explained William Bird, DDS, DPh, UCSF clinical professor of prevention and restorative dental science and director of the IDP.

Bird said that State Assemblyman Fred Keeley (D-Santa Cruz) sponsored assembly bill 1116 which was designed to address getting accreditation for foreign-trained dentists to ensure consistent standards of education and training of dentists.

“Various ethnic, cultural groups and the California Dental Association were asking the legislature to increase access to dental care.  The California Board of Dentistry was planning to discontinue its testing for foreign nationals, so the only way to take the dental board was to become a graduate of an accredited school in the United States or Canada,”  Bird explained.

“School of Dentistry Associate Dean for Administration Julian Ponce and I reviewed other international programs in private schools in California to see how we could have a self-supporting program that would be competitive here at UCSF,” Bird said. This collaboration led to a proposal for the UCSF program which was approved by the faculty and the Regents. 

The IDP is a two-year, eight quarter program, which admits dentists who have received their degrees in other countries.  These international students matriculate at UCSF in the School of Dentistry’s third year comprehensive care clinical programs.

The curriculum includes preclinical and clinical instruction from the traditional DDS program with instruction in pharmacology, oral pathology, differential diagnosis of dental diseases, facial pain, treatment of special patients, applied behavioral science, fundamentals of dental practice, dental jurisprudence and preparation for state licensure. The program culminates with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree.

The new IDS students are 31 dentists who were selected from a pool of 60 applicants.  Requirements included:

· Evidence of a dental degree or equivalent from a foreign country;
· Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination with a minimum of 575 or 230 (computer test);
· Three letters of recommendation (dean, faculty member and candidate’s choice);
· Part one of the national dental boards;
· Eligiblity for appropriate visa.

Qualified candidates were also required to attend an on-campus written and a technical examination and a personal interview.

“When they receive their doctors in dental surgery, some of these dentists will be going back to their own countries as teachers, others will stay to practice in California or in the United States, serving in an ethnically diverse community,” Bird said.  “We know that they also will have excellent preparation for the state examination, both clinically and academically, and should be very successful.”

Bird has a long history of working with people from various cultures, beginning when he was in his 20s and spent time working with Native Americans and Native Alaskans.  He said that this year’s international students are highly motivated and skilled.  “When they complete the program,” Bird said, “they will be ambassadors for UCSF though out the world.”

Students from Cuba, Iran, India, Honduras, Pakistan, Malaysia, Mexico and the Philippines are part of this year’s class.  Their interests include oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, implants, oral medicine, restorative and prosthetic dentistry, endodontics, and general dentistry.  Many of them have worked in dental practices in a variety of settings.

Roland A. Hernandez, president of the IDP students, said that his decision to join the program “was greatly influenced by its reputation of renowned professors, specifically in the oral medicine and oral pathology departments.” 

He said he was also attracted to UCSF because of its outstanding background in research.  In the future, Hernandez foresees himself as part of an oral and maxillofacial sugery residency program.
For more information about the IDP, go to the website at