MyView: Thinking outside of the city
April 01, 2013
I thought I had an idea of where my life and career were headed when I was about halfway through dental school in 2005. I intended to marry my girlfriend, finish school at the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry and work in Jackson, Miss.; Dallas, Texas; or Atlanta, Ga. My brother lives in Dallas, and my girlfriend/now wife Jessica had family in the Atlanta area.
My wife Jessica has a degree in graphic design and experience working as both a legal secretary and paralegal. We would talk about moving and getting our careers started as I'm sure many young couples in their early twenties do. Then everything changed in the summer of 2006 between my third and fourth years of school.
While visiting my mother on vacation in Illinois, I was offered a full-time job as soon as I finished school in Mississippi! This created a situation and opportunity that I was NOT expecting. I mean, where do you start? The only place I could think to start was with our priorities—what did we really want for our life together? Jessica and I discussed our options at length and quickly identified the facts: We had about $200,000 in student loan debt between the two of us, most of which was mine. We had about $6,000 in credit card debt. We had one vehicle we owned and another that we would need approximately $400 monthly payments for another three years to pay off. We thought we wanted to live in a more urban area and desired what I think a lot of dental and other professional students desire—living near our friends and siblings. We wanted to be close to our favorite restaurants, night life and shopping centers. Five years after I've faced this decision, I want others to know what happened.
Jessica and I decided together to move to a rural farming community where I would practice at a health department in a town of 2,700 people. The full-time job I was offered was in Carthage, Ill.—an underserved area—and grant money for student loan repayment was available. The loan assistance was provided in part by the Hancock County Health Department but mostly through the federal State Loan Repayment Program administered by the Illinois Department of Public Health Center for Rural Health. The initial grant contract required that I serve a two-year term at the Hancock County Dental Center.
I began working full time as a dentist there in 2007. It's now 2012, I've been working there for five years, and I feel as though I've accumulated 20 years of experience. We didn't move after the first two years, or the third; and this past year, I renewed my contract through January of 2016.
We now have two kids of our own, and my career has enabled Jessica to stay at home with our wonderful boys. I've continued to apply for and receive grant monies that are available to dentists willing to move and work in designated underserved areas. We were able to buy a home, and our vehicles are all paid for. By this October, my student loan debt will be completely repaid.
I've been blessed to have this opportunity, but I have also worked hard to make it happen. Among other things, I took two regional board exams in three states, and we lived in a very rural area which was at the time far from most of our friends and family.
The decision we made to move from where we were more comfortable has paid off immensely. I have gained more experience in the last five years than I would have ever thought possible, our family has more financial security, and I've been able to help a lot of people. Thanks to the Hancock County Board of Health, the Illinois Department of Public Health Center for Rural Health and the federal government, many patients who would have otherwise gone untreated have been taken care of.
I want to encourage other dentists and dental students, especially the young people starting out, to think outside of the city. Among all the risks marketed to young dentists, I would like to offer this one: Try changing zip codes. If it doesn't work out, you are not out that much, and you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you thrive in your new location. Thank you, Jessica, for your constant love and support!
Dr. Moon is a member of the Illinois State Dental Society New Dentist Committee. His comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Illinois Dental News.
Editor's note: The ADA New Dentist Committee is interested in sharing stories like Dr. Moon's through its communications channels. If you have a story to tell about your career choice, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.