Introduction: The purposes of this study were to investigate factors influencing career choice and identify future life plans of orthodontic residents in the United States.
Methods: Program chairs and directors of all 65 orthodontic residency programs in the United States were contacted by e-mail and telephone for permission to e-mail their residents and invite them to take part in on online survey. A total of 335 residents from 37 programs were invited to complete an anonymous 57-item questionnaire in May 2007. Data were categorized, and basic statistics including chi-square comparative analyses were performed.
Results: A total of 136 (40.60%) residents completed the survey. A "passion for orthodontics" emerged as the most important factor (20.29%) influencing the decision to pursue orthodontics as a career, followed by "intellectual stimulation or challenge" (18.12%). Most residents decided to become an orthodontist before they were in dental school (44.93%). Most residents (89.05%) plan to engage in private practice, and only 2 intend to pursue primarily an academic career. The average resident debt was $165,226 at the end of their program.
Conclusions: The decision to become an orthodontist is often made early in life, before dental school, and a passion for orthodontics is the motivational factor. Residents plan to enter private practice and not pursue a career in academia. The current shortage of academics and orthodontic researchers will not be resolved from the current pool of orthodontic residents. A possible solution to the academic crisis is to change the selection criteria in programs to accept orthodontic residents who develop a passion for orthodontics while in dental school or to recruit primary researchers and teachers to the specialty. Residents plan to practice in an urban setting. Rural and underserviced areas will probably continue to experience shortages of orthodontists in the future.
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