It’s not easy becoming a doctor or a dentist. Nor is it cheap. Yet, despite the many years involved and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested, many will tell you it’s worth it.
Others, of course, will disagree.
Although I spent nearly as much time in my post-secondary education and training as I did in my actual career as an anesthesiologist, I truly do not regret the path I’ve taken in life thus far. My father and his father were both dentists with fulfilling careers.
In this post, we’ll compare and contrast what it takes to become a medical doctor or dentist with a focus on both the time and costs involved.
Today’s guest post is from Nadine Evans at BeMo Academic Consulting. BeMo is one of the most sought-after academic consulting firms in the world famous for helping applicants with admissions to highly competitive programs and its staunch advocacy for fair admissions.
Cost vs. Reward of Becoming a Doctor or a Dentist
It’s no secret that embarking on the journey of becoming a doctor or a dentist costs an arm and a leg, regardless of what school you decide to attend.
One of the first things you should consider is how much debt you are willing to carry with you as you complete your education, head into residency, and begin your career.
Most importantly, you should consider the overall investment you’ll be making when analyzing the cost vs reward of becoming a doctor or dentist. If like many, you’re wondering if a doctor or dentist’s salary outweighs the costs of completing your education and residency, you’ll find the answers here.
Costs don’t only come in the form of dollar bills. Becoming a doctor or dentist requires a serious time commitment: between 7-12 years for doctors and 4-12 years for dentists. This commitment begins after the completion of secondary school, as a Bachelor’s degree is required for prospective medical students to continue to medical school.
While not all dental programs have this requirement, most do. During undergraduate studies, students will have to ensure they complete common prerequisites for medical and dental school including the completion of biology, physics, math, English, inorganic chemistry, and organic chemistry.
Next, prospective medical and dental students need to begin acquiring the necessary experiences to be seen as competitive applicants. Both medical and dental applicants need to shadow a doctor or dentist as shadowing is expected, if not required, for admission to most schools.
Applications and Interviews
Preparing applications, writing standardized tests, and attending interviews take a significant amount of time and effort. Prospective medical students must fill out the time-heavy American Medical College Application Service, (AMCAS) work and activities section and craft an excellent medical school personal statement to apply.
Similarly, dental school hopefuls must create a dental school personal statement which is one of their biggest projects to tackle while applying. Most students spend months writing, editing, and re-writing their application materials until they are strong enough to stand out among other applicants.
If you’re with me so far, all of this time invested only brings us to the application phase of these professional programs. Once students have submitted their applications, they’ll hopefully move to the interview phase of the admissions process.
To start with, some programs expect students to complete the CASPer test, a Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics, which asks students a series of questions to determine who should even be invited for interviews.
After that, students can expect to participate in traditional one-on-one interviews, panel interviews, or even the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). Students spend hours preparing for their interviews by practicing with sample questions and taking part in mock simulations.
Completing the interview circuit can take weeks, depending on how many interview invitations students receive.
Residency and Fellowship
The real bulk of the time commitment occurs during the four years of training at both medical and dental school. But that’s not all, in addition to the four years of undergraduate education, physicians are required to complete residency training before they can practice, which takes between 2-7 years depending on their chosen specialty.
While many dentists also proceed to residency training, it’s not required to practice. If dentists choose to attend residency, most programs are completed in 1-3 years, aside from complex specialties which can take between 4-8 years.
Applying to residency is another timely endeavor as students will apply using the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) which requires the completion of a residency personal statement. Applicants must follow the ERAS timeline carefully, ensuring they adhere to all requirements and deadlines.
The very first expense in becoming either a doctor or a dentist is the cost of applying to medical or dental school. For medical applicants, AMCAS charges $170 for a primary application and $40 for each additional application.
Secondary applications are common and can cost between $75-$150 on average. The MCAT will add on another $320. Plus, about one-quarter of students re-take the MCAT in order to improve their score which increases the cost significantly. Most medical school applicants apply to 16 medical schools on average, which means the overall cost to apply can be over $2500.
The application fee for dental students is $251, plus $108 for each additional school applied to thereafter. Dental schools then require a supplemental fee that goes to the schools themselves, and this costs between $50 – $90 on average. The DAT costs $475.
If a dental school applicant applies to only 10 schools, they will spend around $2500, roughly the same cost that medical school applicants spend, but medical applicants can apply to 16 schools at that price. Applying to dental school is, therefore, quite expensive compared with applying to medical school.
Tuition and Debt
The average annual cost of medical school tuition, fees, and health insurance for residents at public medical schools is roughly $37,000 and $62,000 at private medical schools. Non-residents can expect to spend significantly more, around $60,000 at either type of school.
Dental school is more expensive, with dental school tuition costing on average $53,000 for residents at public schools and $72,000 for residents at private schools.
As with medical school non-residents, dental school non-residents pay much more than residents, approximately $69,000. Overall, dental school residents pay approximately $16,000 more each year compared with medical school residents.
In terms of debt, medical school students that borrowed money come out with an average debt of $200,000. For dental school students that borrowed, the average debt is higher, at $292,000.
Residency Application Costs
As with applying to medical school, applying to residency can also be costly. You’ll incur fees from both the ERAS and later on, the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).
When applying through ERAS, for $99 you can apply to up to 10 residency programs within one specialty. If you want to apply to another specialty, you have to pay the $99 again. For each additional program you apply to, you’ll pay between $16-$26, depending on the number of programs you select.
For example, if you want to apply to 20 Emergency Medicine programs and 30 Family Medicine programs, you’ll spend $99 plus $160 for Emergency Medicine, and another $99 plus $360, making your entire cost over $700.
Plus, if you’re a DO vs MD student, you’ll have to spend $80 for your COMLEX-USA transcript and potentially another $80 for your USMLE transcripts. Next, you will need to register with the NRMP which costs $85 for up to 20 programs, with additional programs costing $30 thereafter.
Finally, you’ll have your residency interviews which come with their own set of accommodation, transportation, and food overheads.
Salary & Career Outlook
There is no doubt that the demand for both doctors and dentists are high. According to the AAMC, by 2032, there will be a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians in the US. Similarly, there are over 6000 dental care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) where there are over 5000 patients for only one dentist.
This shortage continues to fuel demand. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment growth for dentists is around 7.6%, creating an estimated 10,400 jobs between now and 2028. Physician employment growth is high, projected at 7%.
It’s quite clear that the costs associated with becoming a doctor or dentist are astronomical, but excellent salaries, in addition to scholarships, bursaries and grants can help soften the blow.
The median salary for dentists is $156,000 annually and $208,000 annually for doctors. These salaries are much higher than the average US salary of $957 weekly, or approximately $49,764.
Let’s face it, if you’re only interested in becoming a doctor or dentist for the salary, there are much easier ways to make money in a much quicker turnaround. Truthfully speaking, salary is not going to be enough to keep you happy if you’re already unsure whether you want to pursue either field.
Both fields require a massive time, effort, and financial commitment, not to mention the high stakes environment, constant stress, and high pressure you’ll be under. The reason most people choose to become doctors or dentists is that it’s their life calling – they truly want to help others and make a positive impact in their community.
Many agree that the consequences of either career are far outweighed by the simple fact that it is extremely rewarding to help others. To be a successful and fulfilled doctor or dentist, you must truly enjoy it in order to accept both the highs and lows of a career in the healthcare field.
Most doctors and dentists love what they do and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice; putting others before themselves, to serve their patients, no matter the costs.
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Are you a medical doctor or dentist? Were the costs and efforts to become one worth it to you?