Looking to solve industry issues, three Honduran dentists seek new knowledge at Durham Tech

photo of three students smiling with tree behind themCarlos Medina and siblings Marvin and Silvia Umana share a passion for bringing smiles to people.

The three Hondurans graduated as dentists from Universidad Católica de Honduras in 2014, but they quickly found issues in the dental technology industry.

“Dentistry is something you do because you want to help people,” Medina said, 29. “We use to see people that never smiled because of their teeth, but after we worked on them, we get to see them smile. It makes me happy knowing I played a part. You can truly change their life.”

After practicing dentistry in Honduras for two years, one thing became very clear among the new dentists – there was a lack of qualified dental lab technicians, those responsible for designing and creating prostheses like dentures.

“We have dental labs in Honduras, but they’re not great,” Medina said. “Technicians are not trained in school, someone teaches them everything they need to know. They don’t actually study for it.”

Frustrations grew over time as the dentists sent off work to the labs and when they returned, they did not fit the patient.

“We’ve been out of school for two years, and we’ve seen the market in our country,” Marvin Umana said. “When you send your work to a lab, you go back and forth a lot because it’s usually wrong because techs have never seen a patient.”

In 2016, the dentists decided to take matters into their own hands.

Rather than spending their dental careers growing frustrated at local technicians, they would learn how to do the jobs themselves – in the United States.

Marvin, 28 and Silvia, 26, have family in Virginia so they began looking for dental lab technology programs in the region.

“This was a dream for me since I was little,” Silvia Umana said. “To go to another country to study.”

There are 14 accredited dental lab programs in the country and six on the east coast. Medina reached out to five schools and was disappointed that four of them told him to go to their website to find more information.

When Medina reached out to Durham Tech, this was not the case.

“They gave us a lot of information and treated us really well,” Silvia Umana said. “We decided to come here to visit and they opened the door for us. Other schools just told us to find information on the website, but here, they really helped us.”

Gina Perryman, an International Student Advisor at Durham Tech, played a particularly large role.

“She has been such a blessing for us,” Medina said. “She’s always available to help us. If you ask a question, she’s going to help you or point you in the right direction to get help.”

After visiting the campus in December 2016, they enrolled in the summer semester and started the program in May 2017.

Silvia Umana is grateful for the help of Heidi White, Director of International Student Services and Study Abroad at Durham Tech.

“When we were trying to move here, she helped coordinate all of our F1 visa paperwork,” Silvia Umana said. “It’s great to meet wonderful people who are available to us, teach us, and give us their knowledge.”

After they complete the dental lab technology program in May 2019, they plan on taking their newfound knowledge back to Honduras and opening up a dental practice together.

“Some people wonder why we’re going back to get an associate’s degree after becoming dentists, but we have a plan,” Marvin Umana said. “This will definitely be an achievement in our career.”

Medina is looking forward to the independence this degree will provide.

“We’re going to know both sides of the job now. I’m no longer going to depend on a technician because I’ll be my own dentist and my own technician,” Medina said. “It’s not common for a dental office in Honduras to also have labs in them, so this would set us apart.”

Their families are equally proud of them for making the bold move to Durham.

“We’re dentists back home and we’re proud of that,” Medina said. “But by coming here we have an opportunity to grow more and be more successful. That’s what our parents want for us. Like most parents, they want us to be more successful than what they achieved.”

The dentists know an Associate’s Degree in Dental Lab Technology from Durham Tech will play an integral role in their careers when they return to Honduras.

“When our patients in Honduras see we have a degree from the United States, they will appreciate that,” Silvia Umana said. “It’s a symbol of high education.”

Before they return home, they’re also thinking about pursuing their master’s degree at the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry.

“This is not the end for us,” Silvia Umana said. “This is just our first step in another country. We’re dreaming big.”

The Dental Lab Technology Program at Durham Tech is the top performing program in the country, according to the National Association of Dental Laboratories and the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology. Durham Tech ranked No. 1 among all 14 accredited dental program in the U.S. in performance on the Recognized Graduate Examination. Learn more.