Though more than half of dental school seniors in the U.S. plan to begin practicing dentistry upon graduation, the pandemic is driving more graduates to change plans and pursue advanced education, according to a February 2022 report by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA).
Approximately one-quarter of students reported changing their immediate professional plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The pandemic skewed their preferences towards going into advanced education," wrote the authors, led by Emilia Istrate, PhD, the ADEA's senior vice president of policy and education research. The report is titled "Dentists of Tomorrow 2021: An Analysis of the Results From the 2021 ADEA Survey of U.S. Dental School Seniors."
To get a better understanding of what dental students plan to do after graduation, the ADEA sent surveys to the 66 dental schools in the U.S. with classes graduating in 2021. Between March and June 2021, the ADEA collected survey responses from 2,975 dental school seniors. The respondents accounted for 44% of the dental students graduating in 2021.
Of the respondents, 23% said they immediately changed what they planned to do after graduation due to the pandemic. Among those who changed their plans, 60% planned to practice dentistry before the pandemic and 39% were going to attend advanced education programs.
Due to the pandemic, there was a shift toward pursuing more education, the authors noted. Upon graduation in 2021, 43% of respondents who changed their plans opted to enroll in an advanced education program. Meanwhile, 56% chose to begin practicing dentistry.
Additionally, the pandemic changed whether those who decided to practice would do so at a dental service organization (DSO) or a private practice. Of those students who planned to join a private practice after graduation, one-fifth changed their plans due to the pandemic.
Among those who reported changing their plans, 17% had planned on working at a DSO-affiliated office before the pandemic. Upon graduation in 2021, that percentage nearly doubled, with 32% planning to work at a practice associated with a DSO.
"While the changes are not statistically significant at 90% confidence interval, they do show a potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the plans of graduating predoctoral students in 2021," Istrate and colleagues concluded.