Posts Tagged ‘HPSP’

About once a month I get an email from a dental student or pre-dental student who has read my blog and is interested in the Army HPSP scholarship. That’s great! But almost every single one is asking how they can get out of deploying if they come in the Army.

I’m really getting tired of writing the same emails to these students. So here it is:


It’s simple. There’s not much more to it than that. Don’t email me asking for ways to get out of deploying.

There’s a lot more to being an Army Dentist than deploying, and many never have to deploy. Deploying or not deploying doesn’t make you a good or bad soldier. But trying to avoid deploying makes you a dirtbag in my book.

The Army is not for everyone and that is okay. But if you take the scholarship and you come in the Army, then you have to accept what risks and responsibilities come along with being an Army Officer.

I keep getting this question so I figure it is time to publicly address it. My normal response is “Well, it’s just my time to go.” But now that the dust has settled and I look back objectively at the decision to leave the Army, five main factors stand out as critical in my decision-making process. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Geographical Control. I have been in the Army for just over five years and have had three Permanent Changes of Stations (PCS): Georgia, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania. On top of that we moved once at our own expense when I went to Afghanistan. That is four moves in five years. To stay competitive in my branch I would have to move at least once more for residency and once more for a follow on assignment after residency. Including the moves I made growing up in the military that brings the total number of PCSs in my life to 19. I’m exhausted and do not want to keep doing this any longer. I’m also not willing to do that to my wife and kids. There are rumors in the Army about getting away from moving soldiers every few years, but even two more relocations are too many. Especially when I have very little control over where I would go.

2. Quality of Life. I am not talking about living conditions. When I say “quality of life” I’m talking about not getting to choose where I want to live, and being told how to dress, groom, behave, communicate, think, etc. It’s a lot of small stuff, but small stuff adds up over five years and takes a toll. Vehicle inspections, leave forms, having to wear the Army Combat Uniform to work every single day only to change into scrubs once I get there. Constant Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training, Suicide Prevention training,  Anti-terrorism training and Cyber-security training. The list keeps getting longer! Micromanagement of how I practice dentistry and live my life – on and off duty. Being treated as if I have the morals of a felon and the decision making skills of a fifteen year old gets old fast.

3. Organizational Future. This is a big concern across the Army. Sequestration is real and budget cuts are coming. And they are going to be huge. I’m just guessing here, but I would not be surprised to see certain dental special pays cut (or even eliminated) as well as supply budgets, moneys for continuing education and training, and even retirement and health care benefits. I also have concerns that DENCOM may go the way of VETCOM and get absorbed under MEDCOM somehow. I think that situation is a remote possibility, but it would be devastating for the Dental Corps.

4. Leadership Examples. Let me be clear, I am not criticizing the chain of command. My concern is that there are few senior officers in the Dental Corps that a junior dentist can look up to.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some that I think are amazing – both as clinicians and Army officers. But sadly, many of the ones I have worked with are bitter, disgruntled, and out of touch.  So why would a junior dentist decide to spend a career in the Army when so many of those who have done so seem bitter about it?

5. Culture and Loss of Faith. I have concerns about working for an organization with a culture that does not appear to value sacrifice, selfless service, or experience. The Army Dental Corps is the only branch I know that continues to reward officers who have conveniently “opted out” of participating in the War on Terror. Last year Army Graduate Dental Education selected dental students over senior Captains and Majors for the Endodontic Residency Program. I was one of the senior Captains who was passed over in favor of less experienced officers. The organization’s message was clear: we do not value your service, the sacrifices you made for your nation, or your military record enough to select you for residency training.  After that incident I simply lost faith in the organization. And that faith never recovered.

Notice what wasn’t on the list: Money or Deployments. Those issues had very little effect on my decision to stay or go whatsoever. Some would be surprised by that.

So those are my big five reasons. I caught a lot of flak the last time I put a top ten list on “why to get out” of the Dental Corps. Hopefully readers will not see these five reasons as the complaints of some foolish junior officer, but as the reality of one Army Dentist’s objective decision to leave the Army.

As of tomorrow morning I no longer owe any time to the US Army. All contracts complete, all obligations fulfilled.

A few months ago I made the decision to leave the Army. It was a tough decision to make, but in the end I have no doubt that I made the right decision. I don’t think the grass is greener on the other side…it’s just time for something different.

This hasn’t been the easiest journey… and I still am not sure if it was worth it. Three moves in five years and a year deployed… I’m not bitter, but I once I’m a civilian again I hope to spend some time reflecting and writing more about  my experience.

It’s going to be a few more months until my separation paperwork is completed and I’m actually a civilian again. I think that is when this blog is going to get really good again…

I wanted to take a break from my usual writing to put some information out there about the financial benefits of the HPSP program. I know there are a lot of dental students and future dental students who read this blog so here is some information for you. And with the rising cost of dental education this is becoming more and more important.

When I was in dental school, a classmate gave me a hard time about taking the Army scholarship. He said it was financially a foolish move and that I could make so much more money in the civilian world. I explained to him that my decision to come in the Army was not about the money in my particular case, but a desire to serve. He couldn’t argue with that one, but remained adamant that I got a raw deal.

So after five years in the Army I am looking back and re-evaluating the cost benefits of this scholarship.  All non-financial issues aside, this program was totally worth it. Here is my rationale using the in-state numbers from my dental school in todays dollars.

Tuition and living expenses for 4 years: $336,131. I’m assuming a Stafford loan with the current default* 6.8% interest rate and the standard 10 year payback. Using a student loan calculator, a new dentist from my dental school would need $3,868 a month to pay that loan off in ten years. Over the ten-year term of the loan, he would pay $128,053 in interest bringing the total cost of his dental undergraduate education to $464,184.

Now lets run those numbers based on a 4 year commitment to the Army – meaning your dental school loan is paid off in four years, not ten. With those same numbers, a new dentist wanting to beat the HPSP would have to find $8,017 in his monthly budget to pay off that loan. That is $96,204 a year in student loans. That is feasible if you are a practice owner, but an associate making a generous $110,000 a year would have to live off of about $14 grand a year for four years to beat the HPSP.

So here I am at almost the five-year mark (I had a five-year commitment because I completed an AEGD). My dental school is almost paid off. I’m in a pretty good position to buy a nice practice and a nice home –  or do whatever I want without having to worry about paying that huge note if I choose to leave the military.

*Term “default” used to refer to the default setting of the online loan calculator. This does not refer to the interest rate charged to a borrower when a loan is overdue. 

Here we go…

Posted: November 21, 2010 in Uncategorized
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I have been thinking about documenting my journey through the Army for some time now. Its taken me 2 1/2 years to get around to it. My goal here is to allow individuals who are interested in a career in the Army Dental Corps to gather knowledge about the job/life/commitment  so they can make an informed decision about joining.

There are a lot of great things about a career as a dentist in the Army, but with the good comes the bad. A lot of people come in blind to the realities of what that commitment to the Army actually means. Our recruiters have done a great job in the last few years of selling HPSP scholarships. But like good recruiters do, they highlight the positive and skip over the negative.

Im here to talk about both.