Early-phase dental students’ motivations and expectations concerning the study and profession of dentistry

05 Dec 2008

This study investigated the career choice and aspirations of early phase dental students in the four dental schools in South Africa, namely the University of the Western Cape (UWC), University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), University of Limpopo (Medunsa) and University of Pretoria (UP). Willing participants completed a self-administered questionnaire (n=184). Motivations for entering a dentistry programme were similar across race and university, with wanting a secure job most often stated as an important factor. For a third of respondents, dentistry was not a first choice. Amongst the White students, it was a first choice for 82% compared with 59% amongst Black Africans. Expected income five-years after graduation also differed significantly across race and university, with White and UP students expecting to earn considerably higher than the others. About 36% of students were concerned about the levels of personal debt related to studying, with the White and Asian students less concerned. Those who expected lower levels of income from the profession were more concerned about personal debts. Most students planned to enter general dental practice (GDP) after community service, almost all White and Wits students expressed this intention, compared with only 35% of Black Africans and 39% of Medunsa students. Orthodontics and Maxillofacial & Oral Surgery were the most popular specialities of choice. The professional attribute “Has a friendly manner and good relationship with patients” was ranked high most often. In conclusion, career advice may not need to be tailored differently for the different racial groups. There is however a need for further investigations on how to address the concerns of financial security which may be realised by the practice of dentistry, and in particular the racial disparities observed in expectations of the profession. This study further highlights the need for government financial assistance for students from under-represented groups.