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Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) Report 2014

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Qualitative Research Findings Related to Dentist-Scientists

Qualitative research about dental students included one focus group of 6 dental students as well as interviews with the deans of two dental schools, one of which was research-intensive. In addition, one DDS/PhD candidate participated in a focus group where other participants were DVM/PhD candidates.

Among the non-PhD dental students, most reported that they chose dental school because they were interested in patient care and wanted to own their own business. Although students reported some limited exposure to research during their undergraduate years, none applied to dental school with a research career in mind. They also expressed uncertainty about how a career in dentistry and research could be achieved. Most did not think it should be necessary to get a PhD and were not interested in pursuing additional training due to the length of such research programs and the high amount of student debt they were carrying.

The overriding sentiment among students in this group was that they chose dentistry because it is a high-paying profession in which individuals in private practice can own their own business, control their own hours, and hence create a desirable lifestyle.

When pressed to suggest initiatives that would make a research career more attractive, these students identified:

  • Greater networking opportunities and better knowledge of NIH opportunities as they relate to dentistry. Webinars, listservs, and conferences as vehicles for learning more about NIH opportunities
  • Early (including pre-dental school) exposure to dental research programs, particularly information on funding opportunities for school/training
  • More publicity about loan repayment options for research careers that are currently available
  • More networking and travel funds
  • More concise training periods for better integrated dual DDS/PhD Program

The dental school deans confirmed that interest in a research career was low among dental students; one estimated less than 2 percent of students were interested in research. Lack of early exposure to research, lack of dentist-scientist role models, low salaries for academic researchers, and high levels of student debt were cited as factors deterring students from considering a career in dental research.