College of Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Kicks off Global Health Initiative

Welcoming Visitors from Bulgaria

Two students  and administrators from the Medical University of Sofia in Bulgaria come to campus.  

The College of Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) welcomed dignitaries and two dental students from the Medical University of Sofia in Bulgaria in the first student exchange under a new Global Health Initiative.

The contingent from Bulgaria included Vanyo Mitev, MD, PhD, DSc, rector and professor; Anton Filchev, DMD, DSc, professor and dean of the faculty of dental medicine; and Krassimira Yaneva-Ribagina, DDS, PhD, associate professor, who stayed for a few days to initiate the program. Two pre-doctoral students, Pavlina Krassimirova Ivanova and Neli Yordanova Dilkova, were also in the group. They stayed in Memphis for a month, shadowing UTHSC dental students in classes, clinics and lectures to learn how dentistry is practiced in the United States.

Tim Hottel, DDS, MS, MBA, dean of the UTHSC College of Dentistry, has worked on the exchange with Chris Ivanoff, DDS, associate professor in the Dental Research Center at UTHSC. “It was sort of his brainchild,” Dr. Hottel said of Dr. Ivanoff, who is Bulgarian.

Dr. Hottel said he expects the initiative to expand to institutions in other countries and on the UTHSC campus to other departments. “It’s a big deal in medical education that you participate in cross-cultural kinds of efforts,” he said. “This has really blossomed into a huge event. We have more than 25 other universities from around the world that want to join us, and we are now creating the Global Oral Health Institute (GOHI).”

National and international dental organizations are also showing interest, he said. “We’re talking about world-renowned organizations that are now saying, ‘We want to take a look at what’s going on at the University of Tennessee and the GOHI.’ ”

So far, the exchange is limited to the university in Bulgaria and involves only students coming to Memphis. But it is hoped that the presence of the Bulgarian students will encourage UTHSC students to travel there next year. Physical exchanges may be supplemented in the future by online education exchanges as well.

Prior to forming the exchange, a survey was done of dental students at UTHSC and the Medical University of Sofia to determine their perceptions about the role of dental schools in fostering global dentistry and philanthropy initiatives. About 85 percent of the UTHSC students indicated it is important for dental schools to provide students with opportunities to participate in international exchange missions. Bulgarian students echoed this opinion, the survey said. And about 80 percent of all the students surveyed indicated they would participate in an international exchange program during the school year if it were offered.

The study, “Student Perceptions about the Mission of Dental Schools to Advance Global Dentistry and Philanthropy,” will be published in October in the Journal of Dental Education, a publication of the American Dental Education Association.

“We would like our students to go over there and take our dentistry practices, and go out and treat people who are under served,” Dr. Hottel said. “If we take these two young students (from Bulgaria) and we show them techniques that they didn’t learn and they go back and they can help treat more people, then it’s worthwhile.”

Dr. Hottel believes UTHSC students will also benefit from such exchanges. “I’m interested in them learning the value of treating people who don’t have access to the most modern care,” Dr. Hottel said. “We’re reaching those patients in our area as much as we can, but this is worldwide.”