Recently US News and World Report issued its updated ranking for best jobs in the USA and “dentist” was ranked #2 (which means we were pushed off the top pedestal we occupied in the 2017 edition of the rankings by software developers). Orthodontists were ranked #5 and the oral surgeons came in tied with physicians and OB/GYN for #8.
Why do dentists always seem to rank so high on these lists?
It’s interesting to look a little closer at the methodology they use to assemble the list. They take into account things like expected earnings and future job growth, but what is just as interesting are some of the things they don’t take into account. For example, they don’t take student debt or opportunity cost into account. If they did, I think the PAs would vault right up to the top spot. They also don’t evaluate intangible aspects of these professions such as job satisfaction, prestige or longevity. If these kinds of factors weighed more heavily into the equation, then I think physicians would rate much higher. I also noticed the salary information they use is not all that accurate.
So why do dentist fare so well in this particular survey? I think its due to the combination of factors that truly does make dentistry one of the great professions in the world. Along with salary and current as well as future employment prospects, the system also takes into account stress and work-life balance. When it comes to stress, I’m not so sure they have it right with respect to dentistry. Being a dentist can be exceedingly stressful. However, there is flexibility in dentistry that does allow for a fantastic work-life balance so I can understand why we would score well there. In addition, the flexibility factor also can help alleviate the stress to some degree. In a survey of graduating dental students (classes of 2015 and 2016), the top five reasons cited for deciding on career in dentistry were (in descending order): (1) control of work schedule (2) service to others (3) opportunity for self-employment (4) enjoy working with hands and (5) salary expectations. Interestingly, this survey seems to indicate prospective dentists do have a good handle on what a career in dentistry has to offer and that they might not be as focused on potential income per se, as they are on these other factors. What these same students might not fully comprehend when they decide to pursue dentistry is the impact of indebtedness is having on new dentists.
Student debt is increasingly becoming the achilles heel for dentistry. Unfortunately, we lead the way in this category with higher debt than even our physician colleagues. This problem is compounded by the barriers to ownership that only become more difficult when your financial health is compromised by massive student debt.
I hate to say it, but if debt and opportunity costs were taken into account then I don’t think we could reasonably expect to maintain our position at the top of lists like this. Perhaps in a future post I will delve deeper into what the financial situation really looks like for a DDS who is deep in debt compared to a physician with significant debt as well as another profession such as a PA. My initial impression is that the PA would be ahead financially for quite some time before the dentists could catch up. I think because physicians start out at higher overall incomes than dentists that they might, as a group, catch up faster. Debt management is a skill that will be as essential as wielding a high speed handpiece for future dentists.
What do you think? Is dentistry deserving of its place as #2 in this list (and #1 last year)? Is the future as bright as articles like this would suggest? Please let me know what you think!