IF you are thinking about doing dentistry in Malaysia, read on. As a practising dentist in Malaysia, I urge those who are keen to get into this profession to really think carefully before going down this pathway.
Many people and aspiring dentists I meet assume that being a dentist is an easy, money-making job. Well, it’s true that dentists generally have a better work-life balance than medical doctors but being a dentist simply for the money is not a good idea and I believe many who decide to study this subject for this reason come to regret it.
Firstly, I believe there’s an oversupply of dentists in Malaysia. Just drive through the suburbs in the Klang Valley and you can easily spot more than three private dental clinics within a 10km radius. Fresh dental graduates now have to wait up to 18 months to be enrolled in the NDOP (New Dental Officer Programme) to serve their one-year compulsory practice with the government. I personally know dental graduates working as e-
hailing drivers and wait staff while waiting to get in.
Besides 13 local universities in Malaysia, the Health Ministry also recognises 130 foreign universities and allows their graduates to practice in Malaysia. In 2019, there were more than 3,000 registered dental students in Malaysia, as recorded by the Malaysia Dental Student Association.
Every government dentist knows that even in serving the government, their position is not secure. It’s hard to get a permanent contract offer. Spots are limited. Over in the private sector, junior dentists have to compete with thousands in an industry that’s mostly controlled by nepotism.
Money can be better in the private sector with starting pay for most junior dentists beginning at RM6,000 or more. But with higher pay comes more responsibilities. Some are required to work night shifts and weekends. Some are require to sell and promote oral products to patients. It can be stressful.
I have dentist friends who invested a lot of money in opening their own clinics and then have become depressed because their businesses are losing money. We don’t learn business management in dental school. Being an entrepreneur as well as a practicing dentist is mentally challenging. Many underestimate the cost of setting up their own dental clinic.
Therefore, I urge those who want to pursue dentistry to think carefully. Don’t go into it for the money, do it for the passion. Prepare to make a lot of sacrifices when you start working as a dentist.
If you find dental school stressful, it is nothing compared to the real world, especially in the NDOP. At one point, I almost gave up during my one-year compulsory service, as the stress, politics and workload were tough. The fact that I was posted away from my hometown was another challenge.
Aspiring dentists must have the desire to specialise. Understand the system, job scope and working culture. Malaysia needs more dental specialists and oral surgeons. We have plenty of general practitioners.
Being a dentist is challenging yet can be fun too. It’s a lifelong learning process and I urge aspiring dentists to understand more about the role of dentists. It can be a very noble and rewarding one but only if you have the right mindset to treat people. It’s not a profession you should go into for the money.
DR STEVE , Subang Jaya, Selangor
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