For Immediate Release
Date: Nov 30th, 2010
Contact: Dr. John Thompson
Dental Education Found Worthy
There is not a day that goes by in my office or my home that I am not presented with requests for philanthropy. The majority of these requests for donations, especially at this time of year, will not be opened and will make their way to the round file. Those that make the cut do so because the need is either apparent or I have a personal bias or value that the requesting organization represents. Making my cut simply means that it goes on my desk for consideration.
Need is everywhere. We need/want a lot of things that will not make our lives better. We can look no further than our families, our churches, our communities to identify needs where we can make a difference. We most often practice benevolence where we can make a difference and for needs we deem as worthy. It seems that it is human nature that we assign worth to those things we can see. It has always been easier to raise funds for bricks and mortar projects than to find donors that are willing to maintain the operation and continuity of a worthy structure or program resident in that structure.
I am now at the point that I realize that I have spent my entire working life as a dentist. I have been providing dental services for my patients for forty years. As dentists, we have to believe that the profession we chose and the services we provide are of a high value to society. Our personal dedication to our careers in dentistry is a testament to the worth we assign to our profession. To a great degree our personal legacy will be the profession we leave behind for future generations that will practice dentistry.
Those that are choosing to enter this profession are finding a spiral of cost that was inconceivable when I entered dental school in 1967. The decline in federal and state support and the increasing costs of new technology has placed a financial management burden on educational administrators that is unparalleled. Combine this with increasing competition for faculty and compressed salaries for both faculty and staff and we find dental education facing a perfect storm. It is my opinion that the deans of both of our commonwealth dental schools have been incredible stewards in their management of these assets. Regardless of their best efforts, an increasing burden of tuition and fees is leaving our graduates, our newest members of our profession, with an average education debt of between $145-180,000. These numbers are increasing with every graduating class and no end is predictable.
My personal experience is that the less financial burden I felt, the more I was able to enjoy the practice of dentistry. Colleagues have said that the enjoyment they felt in their practice was never greater than when they no longer really had business debt. It is hard to imagine the pressure of beginning a career with this crushing educational debt combined with the startup or acquisition cost of a dental practice. When we recall Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the base representing survival, both physiological and economic, it is an incredible ethical testing to which the newest members of our profession are subjected. The current economic conditions have greatly altered the ability of a young dentist to find bank financing to either acquire or initiate a private dental practice without at least three years of successful experience and collateral.
The integrity required to deal with the anxiety created by a crushing debt is not something that is acquired in dental schools. It is only acquired in the training schools of life experiences that have been faced and survived. The majority of our graduating dentists now must seek professional positions that will provide a level of income that will allow them to rise above indentured servitude to their student loans. The military and public health service have traditionally provided attractive opportunities for a limited number of graduates. There are a few loan forgiveness and cash incentive programs being offered for service commitments in underserved communities throughout the United States. The most attractive and financially rewarding opportunities for either short term or long term employment are being offered by corporate dentistry.
I view the emergence of corporate dentistry as a natural progression of entrepreneurial opportunity. There is now a ready supply of graduating dentists that are in financial situations that require the security of an employment guarantee that includes their benefits, malpractice insurance, ample continuing education and a base salary with incentive bonuses. Corporate dental management has significant productivity expectations when offering these employment packages. Those that do open a new practice or acquire a practice can have no less productivity expectations from their lenders.
What is the point? I feel that most of our newest dental graduates are entering the profession in a survival mode where the highest regard for professional and ethical choices in diagnosis and treatment is challenged. We, as alumni of accredited colleges of dentistry, have the opportunity to make a difference. The statistics for alumni giving are disappointing. That could mean there is a disconnect between the value we place on our education and the rewards we have received through our profession. It is dental education and the collegial rite of passage that has allowed us the privilege of holding a license to practice this profession. It is the trust and value that society places on our profession that affords us the lifestyle rewards we enjoy as trusted health care providers. What we must remember is that both trust and value are matters of public perception and both are fragile.
Every one of us must join in the support of the continuation of quality dental education that is affordable. We must set the example that we as a profession find dental education worthy of our financial commitment if we are to expect legislators to restore levels of public funding for higher education that will attenuate increasing student debt. As the end of another year approaches and as we plan for the new year, consider that letter from your alma mater as a real giving opportunity where you can make a difference. It will only be when we provide endowments through our colleges of dentistry that this profession will continue to enjoy both the trust and value of the public we serve. Write a check, sign a pledge, dental education is worthy of our significant benevolence.