Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Career influences among final year dental students who plan to enter private practice

Benjamin M Nashleanas1, Susan C McKernan23, Raymond A Kuthy23* and Fang Qian2

Author Affiliations

1 College of Dentistry, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA

2 Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry, College of Dentistry, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA

3 Public Policy Center, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA

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BMC Oral Health 2014, 14:18  doi:10.1186/1472-6831-14-18

Published: 8 March 2014



Existing research about the influence of educational debt on students’ decision to enter general practice immediately after graduation is conflicting. Other potential factors that could affect this decision include the influence of a spouse or other family member, the importance of a mentoring dentist, and how students perceive the burden of their debt. The goal of this study was to examine the importance of debt on career decision-making while also considering the role of other influences.


Responses to a self-completed questionnaire of all final (fourth) year students at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry from 2007 through 2010 were analyzed to identify the importance of educational debt and the influence of spouses, other family members, and mentoring dentists in the decision to enter private general practice immediately after graduation. Statistical analysis included bivariate tests (t-tests and Chi-square tests) and multivariable logistic regression.


58.9% of respondents (N = 156) planned to immediately enter private practice after dental school. Bivariate analyses revealed women to be more likely to enter private practice than their male counterparts (69.0% vs. 51.8%, p = .006). Students planning to enter practice immediately did not differ significantly from those with other career plans on the basis of marital status or having a family member in dentistry. Anticipated educational debt of at least $100,000 was positively associated with plans to enter private practice immediately after graduation. Self-reported importance of educational debt was not associated with career plans. However, the influence of a spouse, other family members, and family dentists were also positively associated with the decision to enter private practice. These factors all maintained significance in the final multivariable model (p < 0.05); however, educational debt of at least $100,000 was the strongest predictor of plans to enter private practice (OR = 2.34; p = 0.023).


Since the 1970s, increasing numbers of dentists in the U.S. have pursued specialty training after dental school. However, rising educational debts may counter this trend as increasing numbers of dentists choose to immediately pursue general dentistry at graduation. This project has demonstrated the significant influence of educational debt, beyond other external influences.