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Four Reasons to Pursue a Military Dental Career

If you are interested in serving your country, traveling, and receiving a state-of-the-art dental education, a military dental career may be right for you. provides four exciting reasons to pursue a dental career in the U.S. Armed Forces.

A Debt-Free Way to Pay for Dental School

How many dental students can say they graduated without any debt? You may be able to, if you choose to join the military. If you already attend or plan to attend dental school, the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) provides tuition assistance for qualified applicants. Requirements vary, but programs are available in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. The average dental student graduates with loan debt in excess of $200,000, but dental officers in the military can be “free from dental school debt after completing their active duty obligation,” explains Lt Colonel Sheryl L. Kane ( D.D.S.), the Dental Flight Commander at Moody AFB. Dr. Kane was recruited to the Air Force to complete a comprehensive General Dentistry Residency program after 11 years in private practice. With the help of the Air Force, Dr. Kane became board-certified in general dentistry.

If you sign up today, the following are provided by the HPSP:

  • tuition and fee payments
  • a tax-free housing allowance
  • a monthly stipend to help pay for books and supplies
  • free or low-cost medical and dental health care insurance
  • generous sick-leave and other benefits

These benefits are designed to help you receive an education without having to worry about the cost of attending dental school. And these benefits are not yours alone; some are extended to your family as well. In return, you must fulfill a service commitment as an active duty member in the Armed Forces. Typically, there is an obligation of one year of service for every year you receive a scholarship. Qualifications and requirements vary depending on which service you join.

Adventure, Travel, and the Chance to Save Lives

Your mission--if you choose to accept it--will be to take care of the dental needs of active duty service men and women. You might serve in a foreign country and support the Armed Forces in either peacekeeping or combat missions or you may be stationed stateside, close to home. Wherever you are assigned, the military will prepare you for deployment and give you the necessary training.

At Camp Bullis Military Training Reservation, near Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, men and women are prepared for living and working in a combat environment. Leo E. Rouse, D.D.S., Dean of the Howard University College of Dentistry, explains, “Military men and women learn how to train, work, provide health support and maneuver in a combat environment.” Dr. Rouse became the first Black Commander of the U.S. Army Dental Command. He served overseas twice: two years in Europe and three years in South Korea, where he led 13 dental clinics.

How dangerous is it to serve as a military dentist? That’s hard to predict, but according to Dr. Rouse, “Army dentists are literally assigned to combat units or forward support battalions. Military dentists are trained to protect themselves and their patients.”

As a military dentist you may learn how to triage, maintain airways, intubate patients, and treat fractures. Dr. Kane says, “As a dentist in the Air Force, you may assist in the loading and unloading of patients onto aircraft that are transporting wounded personnel out of an Area of Responsibility (AOR) to a military hospital in Europe or the United States. Similar to an ambulance, planes are used for transport purposes.”  You may also provide dental care on a hospital ship, in a clinic or hospital near an assigned duty station, on a U.S. military base or in other exciting places.

Whether you are saving lives or providing routine dental care, you will have access to state-of-the- art technology.

Great Opportunities for Career Advancement

Depending on which armed service you join, the military includes several paths for career advancement. According to Dr. Rouse, “The military is big on developing leaders. If you are willing to work hard, take advantage of mentorship and training opportunities, you can go far, but it’s your decision that determines how far you go.” Dr. Rouse was a senior military leader and upon retirement, chose an academic path building on the leadership training he received in the Army Medical Department.

Formal and informal mentorship programs are in place to help service men and women ascend the career ladder.  Dr. Kane benefited from an informal mentor relationship. “A mentor and boss in Texas who served in the military encouraged me to join.” Although Dr. Kane has many titles, her primary role is to serve as Chief of Dental Services. She is responsible for a 32-person clinic, staffed by dental hygienists, dental assistants, and active duty dentists on Moody Air Force Base. Dr. Kane’s clinic provides restorative, preventive, and emergent care to 5,000 active duty members. In addition, Dr. Kane also mentors dentists on career progression.

Service to Your Country

“Joining the Armed Forces as a health professional gives you the opportunity to step outside the box and serve your nation and country in a special and unique way,” says retired Major General Patrick Sculley, D.D.S., M.A., Senior Vice President for University Programs at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in San Antonio, Texas.

Caring for the oral health of our troops may not be the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of serving their country, but military dentists save lives every day, sometimes under extreme and unusual conditions. The mission, debt-free education, leadership training, adventure and opportunities for advancement, are all excellent reasons to pursue a career as a military dentist. 

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