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THE NEXTDDS Student Ambassador Blogs

Financial considerations after dental school

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 Frequently, there is one thing on the back of my mind while in Dental School. Fellow classmates suffer from the same thought, while others choose willful ignorance, as ignorance is truly bliss, right?

What I’m referring to is the scary “F” word.

Finances, and of course the associated, necessary, and painful loans.

Most might put it off, saying that it is something to think about or consider upon graduation, that it is too stressful thinking about it now – but looking at the figures, I know I need to be proactive in securing a future where I don’t have to constantly worry about each loan payment. Some may relish in receiving their loan package each semester, fortunate to have more spending money, while I dread it, as I know that each dollar I spend, is truly more than that dollar appears.

I was fortunate enough to have chosen to attend the cheapest state school I applied to, however after graduation I know I’ll still be looking forward to paying back nearly $250,000.

Most of my classmates would consider that $250,000 not nearly as daunting as most have optimistically stated that they expect a 6 figure salary right out of school. Unfortunately, this is the kind of thinking that can limit not only earning potential but also one’s ability to save and prepare for financial decisions in the future.

With the current Grad Plus Loan rate at 7.21%, the loan amount you take out effectively doubles in a 20 year span. Imagine spending 500k for a dental degree, especially after all the work and stress already put into it.

“But, I’ll pay that off in 3 years so I won’t have to worry about 500k”

Unfortunately, many of us are still in the “student mindset” where we unintentionally underestimate what our living expenses will be. We think, “Wow I mean even if we made 100k, that is a ton of money!” However, reality will show us that through federal and state taxes, we can automatically subtract nearly 30%, and then with housing, food, clothing, car payments, etc… the working capital dramatically decreases. Now to have 250k in loans on top of it, it quickly becomes obvious how expensive the route to become a dentist is. Throw in a few more expenses such as wanting to start a family, children, and buying a house, and before you know it, you realize that maybe you’ll need more than 3 years to pay off all your loans. Maybe 10 or more.

Another concept that directly ties in with paying back our loans is the concept of “opportunity cost”.  A concept where you spend your time, energy, and money into one thing but because you are, you may be missing out on other items of interest or as the term suggests, opportunities. A mentor of mine brought this concept to light. Instead of paying his loans off immediately, he opted for more time as if he paid them back rapidly, he would miss out on having the capital to directly invest into the practice he was an associate for. While extending loan payments and thereby increasing the total may seem counterintuitive, what he did made so much sense. As an associate he was making 95k a year, but since he saved and made only the minimal amount per loan payment, he was able to reach his goal of co-ownership of his practice quicker allowing him to buy in and bump his salary from $95k to $195k far quicker than if he paid of his loans immediately. It was because of this savviness, that he was able to secure a higher salary and in turn pay of his loans much easier than if he scrounged to pay them off immediately.

These are the things that we must take into consideration now so that we can prepare for what is to come later. If your school estimates $250k, $300k, or even $400k, make it a point to challenge yourself to save as much as you can. Find ways to shop smarter, save better, and be resourceful in a way that you can be proud of the financial decisions you’ve made and which allow you to make decisions that will pay dividends later. You may not really realize how detrimental some habits are until loan payments begin to be made, but I promise you that you’ll appreciate being proactive. So put down that $6 dollar sandwich, save those $4 dollar beers, and instead invest in yourself to make your financial future brighter.

Mission Trip: "Jamaican" more smiles

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One aspect about dentistry that attracts people who decide to join the field is the ability to give back and help those in need. Many schools offer students opportunities to give back via mission trips. SIU-SDM organizes a mission trip to Jamaica every summer which gives the dental students a chance to practice dentistry in a different, and often more challenging, setting, as well as helps the people of the Jamaican community improve their oral health. The students who go on the mission trip are typically third and fourth year dental students. The third year dental students learn quite a bit from this mission trip since this is often the first time they are practicing dentistry on people instead of mannequins. They come back from the mission trip more confident in their skills and ready to start their journey in the clinic. The main procedure performed on the trip is extractions which can be very nerve-wrecking for a student who has never extracted teeth before. However, since the people of Jamaica are very friendly and desperate of healthcare, they are less fearful of this procedure than people you will encounter in the clinic. Thus, it is less stressful on the dental student. Also, for the fourth year students, this mission trip is a great way to expand your skills by performing procedures in a different setting where there isn’t much technology. Let’s not forget, participating on a mission trip is a great résumé builder too. 

The dental mission trip is organized by Dr. McLeod who is from Jamaica and is a professor at SIU-SDM. There is an annual fundraiser held in St. Louis which helps raise funds for the trip and for the construction of the dental/healthcare facility in Kew Park, Jamaica which will serve that population in need. The mission trip started in 2000, and as of 2014, the trip has helped improve the oral health of 14,000+ adults and children. I look forward to attending this trip and getting the opportunity to travel to a different country and broadening my skills as a future dentist. Having the opportunity to give back to others in need is one of the main reasons I chose to join the dental field, and when I graduate from dental school, I plan on attending other mission trips all over the world. I encourage everyone to attend at least one mission trip in their life.