Determination to start over

With the piles of homework, hours of lectures and lots of stressful exams, most students can’t wait to escape school at the end of the day. For Nantha Rajkumar its different—she can’t stay away.

Last year, Rajkumar was forced to take a year off of school for medical reasons. But every day, she would walk to the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre, on UBC’s Vancouver campus, to visit with the faculty and staff from her dentistry program.

“They took the time every day. They felt like friends and family,” says Rajkumar. “I appreciated all they did to help me get through a difficult year, they were very supportive.”

Finding a network has meant a lot to the UBC Dentistry graduate. Seven years ago, Rajkumar had two well established dentistry practices in Sri Lanka and was surrounded by family and friends.

But social unrest and violence were escalating. Rajkumar and her husband decided to leave the country with their children, then aged two and four.

Scarborough, Ontario was a big change from Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo. In Sri Lanka, Rajkumar had been so busy with her practices that her children had to spend a lot of time with their grandparents and extended family. Now in Canada, the children found the separation hard and worried about their relatives back home. Plus, the parents realized they’d have to upgrade their credentials in Canada.

For two years, Rajkumar stayed home with their children as they adjusted to Canadian life. Her husband, previously an electronic engineer, worked as a technician to support the family.

By 2005, Rajkumar was ready to start work again. She took eligibility exams and asked around about dentistry programs. Canadian dentist friends suggested UBC. She researched and found out it had a good reputation as a learning institution, and decided it was the best place for her to continue her career.

“When I came for the interview, they knew how I felt as a dentist from another country,” she says. “They respected that I was a dentist and made me feel very comfortable.”

The family packed up again and moved to Vancouver in 2007 so Rajkumar could do a two-year International Dental Degree Completion Program leading to a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.

She wasn’t upset about having to come back to school despite having practiced dentistry for 10 years in her home country. She’s learned about new technologies, new approaches to dentistry skills, how the insurance process works and how to manage a practice here in Canada.

The smiling grad says the process of establishing yourself as a professional in a new country was more challenging than she expected including the illness that forced her to take a year of medical leave. Luckily, her children and her husband have been there to cheer her on.

“They knew how important this was to me,” says Rajkumar, who returned to her studies this September, and will be walking across the stage on June 1.

After a few years of working for someone else, Rajkumar would like to open her own practice again. This would make her 10-year-old daughter happy. Having always looked up to mom, she hopes to become a dentist and inherit a family practice some day.

Rajkumar would also like to come back to UBC and teach part-time in the school’s clinics. “I’d like to keep these friendships,” she says.