Dental Student Debt: “Strategies for Success” or Statistics Behind Career Choice? Highlights from ADA President Dr. Maxine Feinberg’s talk

When I asked her for a favorite moment, Meg told me she knew exactly what breakout session to write about! ADA’s President Dr. Feinberg spoke about dental student loans which has been growing steadily in the past few years. Especially for students who attend more costly schools such as Penn, this is a topic we can never discuss enough. ~Yesle

The cost of a dental education has increased over the last several decades. As federal funding for dental school education decreases and the cost of that education increases, tuition bills are making up a major portion of that difference. ADA President, Dr. Feinberg’s presentation on dental student debt, “Strategies for Success,” was less about strategies and more about understanding the multitude of factors in addition to debt that may impact dental career choices.

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Dental students OR mutant turtles? Student loans are a serious manner. We’re not laughing.

Dr. Feinberg reviewed the recent JADA article, Educational debt and intended employment choice among dental school seniors, published by the ADA chief economist, Dr. Marko Vujicic, among others. The hypothesis of this research group, “that higher debt levels could encourage more students to choose to enter private practice” was supported by their findings. However, once factors such as sex, race, and ethnicity were controlled, the “magnitude of the effect of educational debt on intended employment choice was relatively small.”

As Dr. Feinberg reported the key findings of the study: that the most important factors “in the decision to pursue advanced education or a government service position were race or ethnicity” she began to discuss our student perception of student debt as an example of “confirmation bias.” Could demographic enrollment trends really be a greater determinant of my future than my debt?

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These factors might play a role, but it is hard to ignore nearly ½ a million dollars of debt as I begin to discern what my calling in the dental field should be after obtaining my DMD. At the very least, Dr. Feinberg’s attempt to back-up this assumption of student confirmation bias through a comparison of her post-graduate debt (in the wake of Post-Carter Administration economics) to the current situation facing recent dental graduates left much to be desired. Surely, the debt to income ratio in 1984 was significantly lower than current reports of up to 120% for private school dental graduates. I believe that this reality will play a greater role in my post-graduate decision-making than will demographics. This is why I am certain that I will continue to advocate for legislative priorities in state and federal government that address dental student debt during my time in dental school and beyond.

For more information on these topics check out Newdentistblog.ada.org and get involved with ADPAC and your state dental society.

~Meg Harley D’16.