According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), in 2018, indebted students left dental school with an average amount of $285,000 owed. As the cost to attend dental school continues to rise, many prospective students are looking for opportunities to avoid taking on debt, while still gaining valuable experience. One way is through the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP).
This program offers certain health professions paid education in exchange for service in the U.S. armed forces. It covers the cost of dental school, offers students a stipend of more than $2,000 per month during their education and can sometimes provide a sign-on bonus. In return, the recipient serves four years (or however many years they are on the scholarship while in school) as a dentist and officer in the military.
There are several ways the military pays its members, according to the Navy Federal Credit Union:
- Basic pay: The main payment, based on rank and time in service
- Bonus: $20,000 per year incentive pay for general dentistry in the dental corps, according to the Navy Medicine website. Additional bonuses can be added when considering other factors such as foreign language proficiency and specialization.
- Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH): An untaxed benefit that pays for the officer to live off-base. The amount changes depending on location, rank and whether the officer has dependents.
- Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS): A nontaxed, yearly amount of $3,052
These benefits also can be earned during residency if you choose to do one through the military, but the time in residency will not count toward your service commitment. There are some residencies open to military service members only, which can improve your chances of matching with a program.
There are many advantages during active duty after dental school, including paying taxes on only a fraction of your income and avoiding paying interest on student loan debt (because you have none). Furthermore, during active duty, you can receive access to other benefits such as VA loans, the Thrift Savings Plan and comprehensive medical care for the entire family.
An estimate from the ADA’s 2018 Survey of Dental Practice reported that recent dental school graduates might expect to receive roughly $120,000 per year in compensation. This doesn’t account for taxes or a monthly student debt payment. This estimate could increase as the graduate gains experience, but the new graduate may find that they must continue living like a student for a longer time. In fact, to break even monetarily compared to their counterparts who chose military service, they would have to average close to $180,000 for those first five years after graduation.
Ultimately, the decision to be in the military cannot be made with solely financial intentions in mind, but the HPSP can be an option for students interested in serving their country and passionate about entering the health profession. Personally, I have always admired those in the military, so I eagerly welcomed the opportunity to join their ranks. As you plan the next steps of your dental education and career, consider this program as your way to make an impact.
~Trevor Chase, Utah ’23