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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 7 | May 2, 2002

Graduation Last Stop on International Trek

Dental grad's academic path circles globe.

By Hilary Thomson

What started as a career path for Achala Bhalla turned into a 15-year odyssey spanning three continents.

The 33-year-old graduates this month with a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree, marking a final milestone in an academic journey that began in India in 1987.

Encouraged by her pathologist father to pursue a profession, Bhalla completed an undergraduate degree in dental surgery in New Delhi in 1991. She then obtained a Master of Dental Surgery at the University of Calcutta in 1996.

While completing her graduate work she met her husband Barry -- also a dental student -- and at that point her academic itinerary assumed global proportions.

The couple applied to emigrate to Canada. While the bureaucratic wheels turned, they moved to England to build their skills in western dentistry. Bhalla found a job as a hospital dentist in Doncaster in northeast England.

"My first impression was -- where is everybody?"

Her life in India had been protected -- trips outside the home were accompanied by male family members. When she arrived in England, she did not know a single person in the country except her husband, who had found work in another northeastern town.

The couple lived and worked separately for about a year and a half. In 2000, Bhalla came to Canada while her husband stayed behind to finance their further education. Once again, she did not know a single person in the country.

She was attracted to UBC because of the two-year International Dental Degree Completion Program that offers a degree as well as qualification to work in Canada.

"I thought it might be boring to do my training all over again but I was wrong," she says. "The North American approach to patient care is much different and the skills standard is higher."

Taking time to talk to patients and treating the whole person makes the job more meaningful and enjoyable, she says. In India the high volume of patients with poor dental health often meant a production line of extractions. It was rare to find patients in their 50s with all their teeth.

Her husband joined her last year and is also completing his dental degree at UBC. They have been impressed with the work ethic of fellow students and are grateful and pleased with the friendliness and welcoming attitude of Vancouverites.

Although she misses the Indian sun, Bhalla looks forward to working in Canada. The next step is to acquire business skills so that she and her husband can start another journey -- working together in a shared practice.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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