Global Health Nexus, Summer 2003

International Perspectives on Advanced Study at NYU Dentistry: An Italian Dentist Looks Back Over the Past Four Years

I had no idea how significantly my career goals would change when I enrolled in the Advanced Study Program in Comprehensive Care General Dentistry in 1999, one year after receiving my dental degree from La Sapienza University Faculty of Medicine and Surgery in Rome, Italy. When I arrived at NYU Dentistry, I saw myself as a student on a narrowly focused, one-year mission to improve my clinical skills and then return immediately to Italy to enter general practice. But I ended up staying for three additional years, during which I added specialty training in implant dentistry and esthetic dentistry, became a Clinical Assistant Fellow who helped train other international students, and was a front-line responder helping victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. This summer I am finally ready to make that return trip to Rome—with a broader, more ambitious career path carved out for myself.

First Impressions

When I began the Comprehensive Care General Dentistry program, I quickly found that NYU Dentistry students are expected to devote significant amounts of time to training in the College’s clinics. The bustling clinics were a world away from La Sapienza’s serene libraries, where I had spent long hours preparing for the rigorous theoretical examinations that are a mainstay of Italian dental education. Patients from the seemingly limitless range of ethnic and racial backgrounds found in New York City streamed into the NYU Dentistry clinics with an extensive array of problems unlike anything I’d seen before. Each passing day brought new challenges and increased self-confidence. I began to feel that I could go even beyond my program’s goals, which are to train generalists to provide quality comprehensive care with specialist support. I became increasingly interested in specializing, and spent a good deal of time observing students and faculty in the College’s specialty care clinics. The advanced techniques taught in the implant dentistry clinic, and the attractive prospects for implant specialists in Italy, led me to decide to postpone my return to Rome and to enroll instead in the two-year Advanced Study Program in Implant Dentistry.

Led by Dr. Dennis P. Tarnow, Chairman of the Ashman Department of Implant Dentistry, and Dr. Nicholas Elian, Director of the Implant Dentistry Program, implant faculty members all treat students as equals and encourage us to take on challenging cases. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to help Dr. Tarnow treat endentulous patients needing full-mouth rehabilitation— a process that produces dramatic improvements in the patient’s quality of life.

The September 11 attacks struck shortly after I had finished the first half of the implant program. After watching the Twin Towers crumble, I grabbed some basic medical supplies, such as eye drops and bandages, and, at Dr. Tarnow’s suggestion, rode down on a bicycle to the disaster site, where I helped set up an emergency hospital in a damaged building.

When the implant program ended, Dr. Tarnow asked me to stay on to become a Clinical Assistant Fellow. He wanted me to assist with lectures and help incoming international students make the same successful transition I had made from a theoretical, textbook-based learning style to a hands-on clinical approach. I agreed to remain at NYU Dentistry for an additional year, during which I also helped coordinate the College’s 2002 annual implant symposium, which brings alumni from around the world to NYU Dentistry to learn about advances in implant dentistry. I also took advantage of the additional year to enroll in the Advanced Study Program in Esthetic Dentistry, which uses the technologically sophisticated new Rosenthal Institute for Aesthetic Dentistry as its prime training site.

When I finish the program this summer and finally head back to Italy, I plan to pursue my dream of creating an advanced dental study program modeled on NYU Dentistry’s hands-on approach to clinical training.