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Dimitar Bakalov, originally from Bulgaria, has spent seven long years pursuing his goal of working in Canada - photo by Darin Dueck
Dimitar Bakalov, originally from Bulgaria, has spent seven long years pursuing his goal of working in Canada - photo by Darin Dueck

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 5 | May 3, 2007

Dentist Perseveres to Earn Canadian Credentials

He Delivered Pizza Before Being Accepted to His “Dream University”

By Hilary Thomson

When Dimitar Bakalov crosses the Chan Centre stage to pick up his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree this month, he’ll be taking the last few steps of a long and arduous academic journey.

Trained as a dentist in Bulgaria, Bakalov has completed UBC’s two-year International Dental Degree Completion Program that offers a degree as well as qualification to work in Canada. He practiced dentistry in his hometown of Sofia for seven years following his graduation from dental school there in 1993.

“But at 28, I felt like I had done everything I could do there,” says Bakalov, who says his homeland is like Greece but with a Slavic language. “Bulgaria was changing from a communist to a democratic country and things were very rough. There was no money for research or advanced academic programs.”

In 2000, he left his fiancée behind to complete her degree in chemistry and moved to Toronto. He knew he had a long road ahead -- he had to improve his English and take preparatory courses before being eligible to even apply to a Canadian dental school. And of course, he had to find work.

After being turned down for many jobs because he was overqualified, he worked at jobs that included truck and limousine driving, catering work and pizza delivery. He took English courses and completed an expensive, full-time six-month course in Toronto to prepare for theory exams and a course at University of Western Ontario in London to prepare him for the practical aspect of his eligibility exam.

His fiancée joined him in 2003 and both newcomers were frustrated by the many challenges they faced, including financial pressures and intense competition for the few seats in Canadian dental schools available for foreign-trained dentists.

Bakalov was accepted to UBC in 2005 and calls it his “dream university” because of its new clinic and superior reputation among Canadian dental schools. As well, Vancouver’s climate and mountainous terrain reminded him of home.

After his first summer off in a long time, Bakalov joined the third-year class in Fall 2005 and was delighted to feel so welcome. Since then it has been an intense two years, he says. However, his knowledge and skills have improved greatly and now he can consider specialty areas, such as periodontics, orthodontics and dental implants, that would not have been available to him in Bulgaria.

Although he and his wife would like to settle in Vancouver and start a family, the city’s housing prices are out of reach -- “it would be like swimming against a fast-moving river,” says the 39-year-old. The couple is considering Kelowna or Kamloops as possible new hometowns, among others.

For the next stage of his journey, Bakalov looks forward to reviving pastimes such as hiking -- the couple has made a few treks on the Squamish Chieftain -- biking and simply savouring some free time.

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My Best UBC Memories

“What I’ll always remember most about UBC is a warm welcome, how well-organized the interviews were, the respect and dignity they showed to every single candidate and how my classmates made us feel we were in the right place.”

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Last reviewed 03-May-2007

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