True story: A dentist friend of mine has two sons. The younger of the two is the academic superstar. They came to their dad seeking career advice. He told the younger son, “The whole world is yours. You have the talent and intelligence to do whatever you want to in this life.”
Then he turned to his eldest son, “You are actually not that smart. You should become a dentist.”
“Should I become a dentist?” I am sure you have been asked that question by young people trying to figure out which career to pursue. When students express interest in dentistry, I invite them to shadow me in my office. Allowing them to see what a day in the life of a dentist really looks like proves valuable in answering many of their questions. It allows them to see if dentistry is for them. I inform them that there is no sin in deciding that dentistry is not for them if they don’t like what they see. It is just as valuable to discover what you do not want to do with the rest of your life.
The typical advice I give to these young people is, if you wish to live to work (i.e., you are a workaholic), then medicine might be the career for you. If you work to live (and like leaving your job at 5 p.m.), then dentistry may be the best choice for you.
It is a profession that allows flexibility in work schedules. If you can afford it, you can work one day a week if you wish. You also can work six days a week if that is your need, though it is generally not a profession that requires you to be there on consecutive days.
I’ve asked my physicians how they advise young students. Three out of three advise students NOT to pursue medicine. I know a sample of three does not a study make. However, it is telling that I’ve lost two physicians in their mid-40s to other careers. They simply left medicine. How many times has a physician told you that he wished he had pursued dentistry? Too many to count in my experience.
I also advise students about the high cost of a dental education. That is a real hurdle to overcome. Before you even begin your career, you can be in quite a bit of debt. This debt load only gets worse. Let’s assume you have $200,000 in student loans—not an unheard of amount. Then let’s say you want to buy a place to live. Depending on what part of the country you live in, you can easily spend $400,000 for a house. Additionally let’s say you purchase a practice for $400,000. That’s one million dollars of debt! That’s even before buying a car, getting married, and having kids. Wow, I get chest pains just thinking about this amount of debt! I tell young people seeking advice to give this some serious thought.
Those of us who have been in practice for a number of years can give you many reasons why dentistry has been good to us. But if you were to begin your career in the next four to six years, would dentistry treat you as well? I have my doubts, but I’ll save that for a future blog.
What advice do you give to young people? What advice do our younger readers give to people who ask them?
By the way, my friend’s older son did graduate from dental school this year.
Andy Alas, DDS