Posts tagged student debt
An ASDA President's Farewell

12800197_10206261926216517_2092620955632573227_n This blog post is adapted from a letter originally published via email on March 2, 2016. This post is reprinted with permission from the American Student Dental Association. For more dental student news and updates, visit


ASDA has had a remarkable past year as an association, and personally this year has been one of the wildest, most fulfilling experiences I could have imagined.  From the 2015 election in Boston to National Dental Student Lobby Day in Washington DC to National Leadership Conference in Chicago to our House of Delegates in Dallas, this year has been a whirlwind of challenge and excitement.  Because it's difficult to get an accurate sense of what it's like to serve on ASDA's Executive Committee, I’d like to share some insights about our work over these past 12 months.


Wellness Initiative

As I was reading over farewell speeches given by ASDA presidents over the past ten years, I came across the one delivered by Jiwon Lee, and I was reminded again what an intelligent, insightful, talented leader she was. Jiwon was ASDA's immediate past president when we lost her to suicide just a couple months after she gave that speech to open ASDA's 44th Annual Session.


That loss is still difficult for those of us who knew and worked with Jiwon, but one of ASDA's most important accomplishments this year - the one that makes me most proud to be a part of this association - has been the continued rollout of the Wellness Initiative that we launched in response to her passing.


That initiative has expanded from a mental and emotional focus to include ASDA's five dimensions of overall wellness. Each of those dimensions — emotional, physical, intellectual, occupational, and environmental — has a separate section on our website with a variety of ASDA and external resources that are updated throughout the year. This is in addition to:

  • Monthly wellness challenges like "going dark for 24 hours"
  • The testimonials you heard at NLC about addiction and overcoming obstacles in dental school
  • The upcoming wellness webinars that will kick off this month
  • And the fact that the AADEJ selected the Wellness Issue of Mouth for the Larry Meskin Award for Excellence in Dental Student publications — and furthermore, that content from that issue will be re-published this month in the Journal of the California Dental Association.

Because of course, this is about much more than fun runs and catchy hashtags. This is about the fact that dental school can be a dark time. And many of us haven't experienced that — we made it through undergrad as the helpers, not the helped. But we need to destigmatize the idea of being helped. If you log onto our website, you can click on your school and learn how to connect with the wellness resources offered by your university. Yes, dental school is hard on your mind, hard on your body, and hard on your spirit — and you're not the only dental student who feels like that. ASDA's Wellness Initiative is here because we want to be able to show you where to turn.


Student Debt

Another major development that's going to affect dental students this year is the work of the ADA's Student Debt Work Group. According to ADEA, the average dental student debt for 2015 graduates is $255,567. ASDA participated in that work group, which was chaired by ADA Trustee and former ASDA Board Liaison, Dr. Jeffrey Cole. The group secured a deal with Darien Rowayton Bank (DRB) that will allow dental students to refinance their loans at much lower rates upon graduation.


Licensure Reform

I told all of you last year that licensure reform would be my top priority. Many now agree that our licensure system is broken, but there is still little consensus about which path to take in fixing it.  There are many organizations advocating for different pathways to licensure reform, but there's only one American Student Dental Association.


This past July, the Board of Trustees revisited the idea of our ideal licensure examination and passed an interim L-1 policy that has allowed the Executive Committee to be extremely nimble and clear in advocating for reform. And not just reform -- but the right reform.  I was honored and proud when the House of Delegates approved that policy at Annual Session last week.


If you haven't had a chance to review the policy, do so now. This policy is empowering us — and things are changing. Because of the way candidacy for licensure is determined, reform can't be accomplished by any kind of sweeping federal legislation. Licensure is a state's rights issue, so change on the licensure front has to happen on a state-by-state basis. You can imagine that running 50 separate reform efforts is a daunting task, and it is. But change is happening, however incrementally.


ASDA's power is in its voice, because we are the future of the profession. I'm looking forward to hearing that voice in the coming days.


Final Thoughts

I really credit the Board of Trustees for the decisions they've made to steer ASDA in the right direction. Our Board members are dental students with exams, practicals, and competencies like the rest of us, but they've turned themselves into experts on the issues that affect dental students in order to make decisions for the best interest of everyone. Thanks to all of them, including our inexhaustible Colorado ASDA president and District 9 Trustee, Kyle Larsen. And I especially want to thank my fellow Executive Committee members — Adrien Lewis, Niveditha Rajagopalan and Nancy Honeycutt — for their humor, talent, stamina and intelligence.


One of the greatest challenges about ASDA's leadership structure is that we serve one-year terms, which means our leaders turn over almost completely every year. But this is also one of ASDA's greatest strengths. It gives every set of ASDA leaders exactly one year to aggressively throw themselves into the fight for ASDA's initiatives, and then turn that work over to a new group of fresh, creative minds.


I think this is so incredible because it gives our association the ability to reevaluate ASDA's direction through new eyes every single year. It's such a gift to know that Adrien, Niv, and I will pass our work on to a new Executive Committee that can analyze and critique what we've done, and potentially take this association in a direction the three of us could never have imagined. It's not with a heavy heart that I'm ending this term - it's with a happy one. I can't wait to serve in a supporting role for the next leaders of this association.


I feel so humbled to have had the chance to serve you as president this year.  I see bright, exciting futures ahead for all of our members, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of an association that's making our collective future brighter by the day.


Thank you,


Christian Piers, Colorado ‘16

ASDA Immediate Past President

Military Dentistry: the lowdown

IMG_0696 - AFA dental visit I grew up being interested in serving my country because both of my grandfathers had done so.  My only dilemma was how I could accomplish that. While applying to dental school, I realized that I could be a dentist, serve my country, and have my schooling paid for. All of my ducks were nicely lined up and I began my journey to become a dentist. Now let’s dive deeper into my decision to serve.


My life in dental school is much easier thanks to my military commitment. The full ride scholarship is welcomed, especially during a time when dental schools are charging 4 year tuitions that equate to a full mortgage. You graduate with a foundation but no house to show for it. My fellow militia and I also receive a monthly living allowance that can be fairly generous if you live within normal means. Oh, and cross your T’s and dot your I’s at the right time and you may qualify for a large signing bonus!


I know what you are thinking, “With all of these benefits, there must be a catch, right?”. Well yes there is…kind of. A military lifestyle is not for everyone. A 4-year scholarship requires a 4 year pay pack while living in about 2-3 different locations. As an officer, it is expected that you will move about every 2 years, and you might not have much say in where you will be going next. This nomadic lifestyle can be stressful on a family, and difficult for a spouse with their own career. If you do not like taking orders, clearly, the military is not for you. Many people choose dentistry for the autonomy. Autonomy does not mix with the military for obvious reasons.


Besides financial benefits, there are many other great reasons to choose the military route. Every day you are serving individuals who are sacrificing their lives for this country. This is an intangible gratification. You can travel and have the opportunity to live almost anywhere in the world. You have 4 years to focus on improving your dental skills. Another overseen aspect is that your patients are not limited by finances and are able to receive the best possible care. This will not apply to the civilian side, but will allow dentists to hone many new skills.


Now lets do some rough math. Out-of-state tuition is roughly $75k a year, roughly $300k at the end plus about $50k in interest at an average rate of 7%. For the military, you can add on an income of $25k a year while in dental school. That is a total scholarship value of $450k. Now the field evens out because the military salary will range from $80-95k. As compared to the average new dentist making $90-130k a year minus debt payments. I did a full break down but I will spare you the minutia. After paying off some of the debt, both parties make out pretty even after 4 years post graduation.


I view my scholarship as a tool to advance my career. I know that it will be hard on my future family and moving around will be cumbersome. There will be days when I envy my civilian counterparts as I float along on a ship in the middle of the ocean. There will be plenty of hardships and unfortunate circumstances. I like to live life with an open mind. I know that this experience will help my career and my family to grow. I will gain experience working with specialists of all kinds and have unique experiences that only a military dentist can have (helicopter rides, aircraft carriers, etc.)


I was given some advice years ago, “Do not choose the military scholarship for the money. Choose to serve your country and the finances are a perk.” I think this sums things up nicely. The money looks really nice in order to avoid the student loan debt, but there are many costs of every day life as a military dentist. I like to put it this way: You have to pay someone either way, it just depends on how you want to pay it. The traditional student is paying monetary debt. The military student is paying with their time. If you want to serve your country and do dentistry, the scholarship is a good choice for you.