By Zachary Paukert
Many assumptions fill dental schools. Faculty believe the administration will attract motivated new students, willing to learn. Students expect outstanding facilities in which to learn. Students look for guidance from numerous engaging faculty members. Unfortunately, during my last three years of dental school, I have seen the last assumption modified.
Although San Antonio has numerous faculty, the faculty support I had since my freshman year has decreased. This situation is common at many schools. Simple daily tasks, such as critiques of preclinical restorations and patient start checks, are taking longer to perform. A preclinical lab that was covered by six professors my freshman year is now covered by four. When faculty positions go unfilled or are reduced, the learning capabilities of the students and the effectiveness of the school are decreased.
I was told my freshman year that a dark cloud was coming that threatened our schools and our profession. In reality, the storm of faculty shortage is upon us. According to an ADEA survey by Dr. Richard Weaver et al., there has been a decrease in the number of full-time faculty positions and in the number of people seeking faculty positions. Currently, the future does not offer much hope. According to the “Annual ADEA Survey of Dental School Seniors: 2004 Graduating Class” (May 2005 JDE), in 2003, 1.9% of graduates planned to immediately enter academia; however, in 2004, that percentage dropped to 0.5%. Furthermore, in a March 2004 JDE article, Dr. Livingston points out that the average age for full time faculty is 50. Faculty age has continued to increase, and new faculty are not being recruited.
The time for complacency is over. Dr. Weaver’s survey showed increasing concern from school administrators over faculty shortages. Dental organizations have begun to try to address the problem. The ADA Foundation’s campaign is a strong commitment from the ADA. Students continue to voice their concern and possible solutions through ASDA. Initiatives, such as the Academic Dental Careers Network and the Metamorphous Program, by ADEA show a commitment to addressing the issue. But the faculty shortage dilemma will not be solved by any one organization’s work; instead, it will require commitment from all parties of interest.
At schools, careers in academia should be advertised. The time to introduce a career in teaching is during the freshman experience, not in the senior year. Create a mentorship system for interested students. Many faculty have been inspired by others; this inspiration is contagious. By involving students early in teaching and by exposing all aspects of a faculty position, such as tenure and dental faculty practice, students become educated about a career in academia. Students need to be aware of the requirements to secure and retain a teaching position and the benefits of an academic career.
A major concern for students upon graduation is debt. Educational debt continues to rise, with the average graduate $122,263 in debt. Although the annual survey of graduates does not show debt as a concern for those entering academia, Livingston’s article shows debt as a concern of faculty leaving their positions. Educational debt should not prevent careers in academia. Creative solutions need to be devised to help interested students and motivated faculty manage their debt.
By helping students realize that a career in academia is viable and through schools receiving more funding, the faculty shortage will stabilize and begin to decline. More faculty interaction during dental school will also motivate more students to pursue a career in teaching. By increasing mentorship and retaining faculty, maybe the dark cloud of faculty shortage will break and be replaced with the increased effectiveness of schools and their graduates.
Zachary Paukert is an ’06 student at the University of San Antonio Health Science Center School of Dentistry. He is also the national ASDA editor.