US News & World Report recently came out with its 2019 rankings of the nation’s best jobs. Dentistry was rated number four. While this outstanding number seems to congratulate the profession, one is pressed to ask why there is so much angst among dentists.
An examination of the survey methodology reveals significant flaws. The primary evaluation criteria included median salary, employment rate, growth volume and percentage, and job prospects. While these raw figures may provide further incentive to expand the dental educational-industrial complex, other critical numbers are ignored.
Increasingly, students and education counselors are examining which graduate degrees deliver more debt than income. Debt-to-income ratios are essential dollar amounts to appraise. Loan comparison website Credible ranked dentistry fourth worst among careers surveyed for debt to income, with 11.5% monthly debt to income. Dentistry also rated third worst surveyed for median loan balance as a percentage of income at 158%. Financial aid advisors generally recommend, as a rule, not to assume more debt than your anticipated annual income.
“We need more transparency to help students get a handle on what they will earn after graduation and how much debt those earnings will support,” said Stephen Dash, CEO and founder of Credible.
“While incomes tend to rise over time, students considering going into professions where they are likely to have higher debt-to-income ratios should think carefully about how they plan on paying down their student loans upon graduation,” said Dash.
“Dentists, in particular, are in a particularly challenging position of having to go through rigorous and costly training—taking on significantly more debt than medical doctors for their schooling—only to earn an average of about 10% less than doctors after graduation,” Dash said.
Another element too frequently overlooked is the average years of loan payments remaining. Credible ranked dentistry second worst of those careers reviewed, with 14.9 average years remaining to pay off student loans.
Undoubtedly, the dental education-industrial complex will point toward dentistry’s ranking in US News & World Report to open more dental schools and enlarge class sizes. Ethics demand a full reporting of the realities of debt-to-income ratios. Because of the huge dollar amount specific to dental education debt, repayment is frequently drawn out for 20 to 25 years.
No dental education loan debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy court. When the principal isn’t paid down, compounded interest accrues. The debt load may expand to numbers impossible to repay.
Also, US News & World Report examined “stress level” in its methodology and gave dentistry a level of 6 on a 10-point scale. With the disturbing amount of dental education debt, how can one reasonably assume dentistry is a medium-stress occupation?
Our aspiring professional generation deserves an honest presentation of economic realities. Dentistry has value for those motivated by service of the public welfare. It benefits serious individuals who wish to honor the doctor/patient relationship. Dentistry is not a financial “golden goose.” Counselors, who misrepresent the dental profession as such to our youth, are too often charlatans and swindlers.
Dr. Davis practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, NM. He assists as an expert witness in dental fraud and malpractice legal cases. He currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer-Review Committee and serves as a state dental association member to its house of delegates. He extensively writes and lectures on related matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or smilesofsantafe.com.