When Ozarks Technical Community College dental hygiene student Sam Patel would give a patient an injection in the OTC Dental Clinic, his hands were always steady. His fellow dental hygiene students took notice.
“They would ask me, ‘Why don’t your hands shake when you give an injection?'” Sam chuckled. “I would tell them I just have good practice.”
Little did his classmates know that before Sam came to the United States, he was a practicing dentist in his home country of India. A humble person, Sam kept his previous dental career a secret from his classmates until they approached their May 2022 graduation. His instructors knew about his background all along and said Sam was a leader in the classroom.
“Sam brought a quiet confidence to the clinical setting. He was always extremely respectful and kind to faculty and his peers,” said Rebecca Caceres, OTC dental hygiene program director. “Sam was always quick to help his classmates with their studies, technique, or disinfecting their dental chairs. He will be an outstanding dentist.”
Making the most of his experience
Due to licensing rules in the United States, Sam cannot practice dentistry in the United States without additional education. In India, Sam started dental school right out of high school. It is four years of college training and then a year of residency. Following his education and training, Sam practiced for three years before traveling to Canada to care for his grandparents. He immigrated to the Ozarks in 2016 and began the dental hygiene program at OTC in 2017.
“In India, the dentist is the doctor and the hygienist,” Sam said. “I hope to attend dental school and practice here, and learning to become a hygienist helped me learn the U.S. system.”
Unable to practice as a dentist, Sam did not let his training and experience go to waste. He passed the dental assisting exam and currently works at Aspen Dental.
“I now have experience in all positions. I can do everything, so I would not hesitate to do any small work in any office,” Sam said. “Even if I had to mop the floor. I would not say, ‘I’m the dentist. I don’t want to do that.'”
The 31-year-old is married, has a three-year-old daughter, and recently became a U.S. citizen. He’s applying to dental school and hopes his experience and education in India will knock a couple of years off the training he will need to become a U.S. dentist. Sam is especially appreciative of the college for the opportunities he’s received.
“I’ve worked as a dentist and a dental assistant. Now, I have training in dental hygiene. All these experiences will benefit me when I am a practicing dentist in the U.S.,” Sam said. “I’m thrilled I am an OTC graduate. I am really proud of that.”