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Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) Report 2014

Summary of Challenges Facing the Dentist-Scientist Workforce

A significant concern in dental education is the number of vacant faculty positions; in 2003-2004 there were an estimated 241 vacant full-time and 55 part-time faculty positions at U.S. dental schools.82 Foreign-trained dentists who have received advanced specialty training in the United States are a prime source for filling these positions. These individuals often have less student debt than U.S.-trained dentists, view faculty positions as prestigious, and can more easily practice dentistry as a faculty member without the more burdensome prerequisites for private practice. However, many lack research training and are usually not eligible for NIH training support programs because of citizenship status.

The primary source of faculty in U.S schools of dentistry is U.S.-trained dentists with specialty or advanced clinical training. However, many of these individuals carry high educational debt loads making academic salaries unappealing in comparison to clinical practice. Those who do pursue academic appointments frequently become excellent clinical teachers, but often contribute little to research due to lack of research training and minimal expectations by their institutions. Financial pressures on dental schools also resulted in an increased emphasis on clinical revenue generation, thereby relaxing the emphasis on research. Further, once hired, young faculty members have difficulty finding senior faculty with the appropriate research background to mentor them during their early career years.

Non-DDS faculty, those with MS and/or PhD degrees, have often provided research training and mentoring in dental schools. These individuals can pursue their research interests without conflicting teaching and clinical service commitments. However, this valuable pipeline of committed researchers is rapidly dwindling for academic dentistry due to shifts in priorities away from research within dental schools and difficulties in succeeding with R01-level research.

Several factors threaten the biomedical workforce of dentist-scientists. These include:

  • A low priority given to research within dental schools: An overwhelming majority of the 13 new schools that have launched in the past 15 years can be classified as non-research-intensive.
  • There has been a gradual decline of research productivity in dental schools, in general. This has resulted in the lack of competitiveness of dental school-based researchers for NIH funding. For example, the percentage of NIDCR funding to dental schools has declined from 68.7 percent to 46.7 percent between 1993 and 2008 and this downward trend continues.83
  • The last decade has seen an upward trend in income levels for dentists in the private sector. The significant differentials seen in compensation with academic salaries has led to a highly competitive pool of dental applicants who are more drawn to private practice careers.
  • As commitments to research have declined in more established dental schools, the new dental schools have developed tuition-based financial plans that are driven by non-research intensive training programs.
  • The average dental student debt burdens have risen to alarming levels; current loan values are approximately $220,000.84 While ADEA and ADA are brainstorming strategies for loan repayment, these mechanisms are not in place currently. This has profound effects on the retention of dentist-scientist in the biomedical workforce.
  • Research in the oral health sciences has steadily built in medical schools/hospitals, schools of engineering, etc. further contributing to a disengagement from research within dental schools.
  • Taken together, the culture and environment within dental schools has led to a diminished pool of research faculty mentors for dentist-scientist trainees, the lack of understanding and support for the training and career development of dentist-scientist graduates and a transition away from the granting of tenure.

82 Weaver, R.G., Car, J.E., Haden, N.K., Valacovic, .RW. (2005). Dental school vacant budgeted faculty positions: Academic year 2003-04 Journal of Dental Education 69: 296-30.

83 Lipton, J.A. & Kinane, D.F. (2011). Total NIH support to U.S. dental schools, 2005-2009. Journal of Dental Research, 90(3) : 283-288.

84 2013 ADEA President’s Report: Looking Around the Corner. Retrieved from http://www.adea.org/about_adea/2013_ADEA_President_s_Report__Looking_Around_the_Corner.html