Feeling unsafe in Colombia due to ongoing violence, Alexandra and her husband decided to apply for permanent residency in Canada. They arrived in Brampton, Ontario, in 2011 – eighteen years after Alexandra had first begun her career as a dentist.
“The first time I thought about being a dentist, I was seven years old,” recalls Alexandra. “My dentist inspired me. She had a practice in her house and was able to be a mother and a professional at the same time. Since I always wanted to be a mom, I felt motivated.”
After completing five years in dental school and earning a dentistry diploma from Universidad del Valle in Colombia, Alexandra was required to complete one year of paid compulsory government service to receive her license.
“I worked in an aboriginal region and ended up staying for seven years. Things were a little rough in that part of the country. I had to travel by horse and sometimes work without electricity. It was a hard time, but I enjoyed it,” she says.
Eventually, Alexandra and her husband decided to move to Canada in the summer of 2011 in pursuit of better opportunities for their family. Before leaving Colombia, Alexandra learned that in order to be a dentist in Canada, she would need to go back to school; a situation that seemed impossible to harmonize with her family life at the time “I had two kids and a husband,” she explains. “How could I go to university for two years? So, I decided that dentistry was no longer for me. I sold my books and my instruments because it was the end of my career.”
Once in Canada, and through a connection, Alexandra landed her first “survival job” cleaning offices. However, Alexandra wanted to find work in the health sector, and knew her first step in doing so would be to improve her English-speaking skills. Initially, she enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Sheridan College. Then, she took their Enhanced Language Training (ELT) program as well.
Armed with better English skills, Alexandra thought it was time to find a new career. She approached HealthForceOntario and found out about changes in the process to become a dentist in Canada. “I found out that I wouldn’t have to go to university. I could complete three assessments and one final examination. I was surprised. I talked to a dentist from Colombia who was going through the process, and I felt encouraged to do it.”
In the meantime, Alexandra met yet another dentist from Colombia who was assisting at a private practice. They needed a dental assistant, and Alexandra was offered a temporary hourly job. “Dentistry took me back,” she says. “I was trying to get away, but then I realized I was doing dentistry again.”
After some time, and in order to be able to do more than assisting with teeth cleanings, Alexandra enrolled in the Dental Office Radiography Certificate at George Brown College and obtained a license.
Determined to become a dentist in Canada, Alexandra sent her international dentistry credentials to the National Dental Examining Board of Canada (NDEB) to complete their equivalency process. Once her credentials were verified and the application approved, she was ready to take the Assessment of Fundamental Knowledge (AFK).
In preparation for the evaluation, Alexandra didn’t work for a month and instead immersed herself in her studies using Dental Decks – flashcards that prepare students for board exams. “I knew people that were taking preparation classes for the exam, and it was expensive. The cost of the process itself was quite high, and my husband and I were barely surviving,” points out Alexandra.
Alexandra took the AFK in 2014 but didn’t pass it. She knew she needed to enroll in preparatory courses to make sure her second attempt at the AFK was a successful one, but money was still an issue.
“I asked my family in Colombia for help. I got some, but it wasn’t enough. I applied to many banks for loans, and I couldn’t get any. I didn’t have a good credit history in Canada; I didn’t have properties. I was a newcomer, so it was tough to get a loan,” says Alexandra.
Fortunately, a bacteriologist from Colombia told her about Windmill Microlending. “She said there was an organization that could help me. So, I contacted Windmill. I had a Skype interview and submitted the required documents. Soon, I received the loan which helped me pay for the AFK preparation course at Prep Doctors.”
Alexandra took the AFK for the second time in February 2015 and passed. Four months later and after another preparation course, she took the Assessment of Clinical Judgement (ACJ). Finally, after a new preparation course, Alexandra went on to take the Assessment of Clinical Skills (ACS) in December 2015.
“The results for the ACS came in February 2016, and I failed. I was destroyed. But with help from Prep Doctors, I applied for an appeal. In May 2016, the appeal was approved, and I passed,” indicates Alexandra with a sigh of relief.
In December 2016, Alexandra took the Board exam, which consisted of a written examination and the OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination). She passed both and immediately applied for the license to practice dentistry in Ontario, which she received in February 2017 from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario.
Today, Alexandra lives in Whitby, Ontario, and works as a dentist in two different practices in Oshawa and Brampton. She’s very grateful for all the support she received from her family, and in the future, she plans to specialize in dental implants and open her own practice.
To other internationally-trained dentists, Alexandra offers the following advice: “Start the process to become a dentist in Canada. It’s possible. You’ll need to push yourself and make a lot of effort. It’s not easy, but it pays off.”