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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 114-118

Motivations and future aspirations of dental interns: A cross-sectional study

Department of Pharmacology, Dr. Harvansh Singh Judge Institute of Dental Sciences, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India

Date of Web Publication20-Nov-2013

Correspondence Address:
Suruchi Aditya
Department of Pharmacology, Dr. Harvansh Singh Judge Institute of Dental Sciences, Panjab University, Sector 25, Chandigarh - 160 014
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0976-433X.121635

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Background: Career choice is one of the most important and critical decisions in a student's life. Educators and admission committees are also interested in researching the factors that affect a student's decision to opt for dentistry. Objectives: To identify dental interns' motivation for studying dentistry and to study their future aspirations after graduation. Materials and Methods: This was a cross-sectional, descriptive survey. A detailed, anonymous, structured questionnaire to assess motivating factors for joining dentistry as a profession was administered to the study group of 78 dental undergraduate students undergoing internship (interns). The questionnaire consisted of sections on demographic details, motivational factors, and career choice items. Data was analyzed using counts and percentages and ranking of motivating factors was based on calculation of mean and standard deviation. Results: The response rate was 94%. Majority of the respondents were females (80%). The most popular reasons for choosing dentistry as a career were family advice, prestige and social status, interest in medical sciences and altruistic motives. The majority of the students planned to do postgraduation (35.1%) or practice dentistry (18.9%) after graduation. The dental students had a positive attitude towards the dental profession. Conclusion: The motives for joining dentistry were primarily related to personal factors. The students took responsibility for their career choice and parents' approval played a major role. Majority of the students planned to pursue a postgraduation degree after completing graduation and few were inclined to be employed in public or private sector.

Keywords: Career plans, dental students, motivations

How to cite this article:
Aditya S. Motivations and future aspirations of dental interns: A cross-sectional study. SRM J Res Dent Sci 2013;4:114-8

How to cite this URL:
Aditya S. Motivations and future aspirations of dental interns: A cross-sectional study. SRM J Res Dent Sci [serial online] 2013 [cited 2022 Oct 3];4:114-8. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Motivated and committed students are able to complete assignments successfully, achieve a goal, or accomplish some extent of mastery in their field, and thus attain academic success. Behavior reflecting academic motivation mostly includes insisting on doing difficult assignments, working hard or making all the efforts to learn, and accepting challenging assignments happily. [1] On the other hand, loss of motivation causes pessimism, anxiety, and depression; which leads to lower academic performance at preclinical as well as clinical level.

Career motivation refers to the extent to which a person sees involvement in a career as central to his or her future life. Numerous studies investigating why students choose a particular health career reveal three primary themes: Profession-related factors or characteristics of the profession, personal factors, and program-related factors. Altruistic values and a service orientation have been found to be characteristics of several health care professions that strongly influence health care students' career choice.

It is important to distinguish between extrinsic considerations and intrinsic motivators, where students truly enjoy the academic pursuit of dentistry. Besides the actual type of work that a particular career entails; the working conditions, the financial rewards associated with a career, the availability and attractiveness of alternative careers, the student's background (gender, ethnicity, and ability), psychological or personal self-concept factors (attitudes, beliefs, values, and previous experiences), and environmental or social factors (financial capabilities) in the society affect the student's decision. [2],[3],[4],[5],[6]

Expectation of a secure and bright professional future keeps the students motivated during the course of their dental education. However, dentistry as a professional career may change over time in relation to skills, team-working, continual innovation in techniques, and materials. This further highlights that the ability to respond flexibly and to address the challenges will result in a progressive career graph. [3] The growth and sustainability of the dental profession depends in large part on the ability to select students who value and are committed to expanding access to dental care.

Research into the career motivation of dental profession is vital to inform dental workforce policy, administrators, and educators. Understanding students' motives for choosing dentistry as a career may aid recruiters and educators in not only designing appropriate and effective strategies for planning of undergraduate programs in dental sciences, but also in providing students with a complete and accurate picture of the profession. Also, it may help to identify reasons for low academic yield of undergraduate students as well as high rate of repetition in advanced classes of the dental course; thus, gives an insight and assist in counseling of prospective dental students.

The present study identifies interns' perceived motivation for pursuing a dental career and examines students' future plans after graduation.

  Materials and Methods Top

The present study was carried out in a teaching dental hospital in north India. This was a descriptive, cross-sectional survey of dental students undergoing internship and was based on a structured questionnaire format. The purpose of the study was explained to the participating students; confidentiality was ensured. Written informed consent was obtained from the students before filling the questionnaire.

Dental interns were administered a pretested questionnaire, modeled on compilation of factors in previous literature. The questionnaire had both open- and close-ended questions. The first section contained questions pertaining to demographic data; including age, gender, type of school, educational background of parents, and person who influenced their choice of dentistry. The second section contained a list of factors that could have influenced students' choice of dentistry as a career. The factors of motivation were rated from 0-4 on a Likert scale; 0 = not important, 1 = disagree, 2 = slightly agree, 3 = agree, and 4 = strongly agree. Students were asked to rate the importance of each motive for attending dental school using this 5-point scale. The third section contained question on future plans after graduation and the preferable choice of subject for specialization. The last section consisted of questions on attitude about dental profession. Statistical analysis was done using counts and percentages. To find the most important independent driving force for choice of dentistry as a professional career, aggregate scores were derived for each principal motivating factor; ranking of motivating factors was done after calculating mean and standard deviation. Some of the questions had multiple responses to choose from; therefore sum total of percentages was more than 100%.

  Results Top

A total of 78 dental interns were given the questionnaire; 74 filled it correctly giving an overall response rate of 94% and 80 percent of the respondents (n = 59) were females. The male to female ratio was 1:4. Age in the sample ranged from 22-25 years. Majority of the parents were well educated; parental education background revealed that majority of fathers (88%) and mothers (76%) were graduates. Most of the students completed schooling from private schools. Only 28.3% students stayed in hostel, whereas majority of the students resided at home [Table 1].
Table 1: Sociodemographic characteristics of students

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Analysis of the motives for choosing dentistry as a career revealed that the most important factors that influenced their choice of dentistry were family advice, desire to enter a prestigious profession with high social status, interest in medical science, altruistic factors (such as helping people), and independence in job. Factors such as flexibility or regular working hours, job, and financial security influenced the decision of this cohort of dental undergraduates to a lesser extent [Table 2].
Table 2: Top most factors motivating students in the choice of dentistry

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Regarding future career plans after graduation, 35.1% planned to do postgraduation in India; while 13.5% planned to pursue postgraduation abroad. 18.9% planned to work at a dental clinic in the future. Few students opted for a plan to work or pursue postgraduation abroad. Fewer respondents were interested in pursuing a research-based career [Table 3]. Given an opportunity, the preferred fields for postgraduation were oral surgery (29.3%) and endodontics (18.9%) followed by prosthodontics (12.7%) and orthodontics (11.5%) [Table 4].
Table 3: First choice for future career plan chosen by the cohort of interns

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Table 4: Students' interest in dental specialty areas for postgraduation

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Most of the interns (48.6%) reported being happy with their profession. Though one-fourth students reported lack of confidence in treating patients; one-third students expressed satisfaction in their ability to develop a good doctor-patient relationship. One-fifth students felt stressed about future jobs, finances, etc. [Table 5].
Table 5: Students' attitude towards profession

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  Discussion Top

Age of respondents ranged between 22 and 25 years; younger age of student reflects that they joined the dental profession immediately after completing high school. A study by da Silva et al., showed that better students' performance was predicted by lower time elapsed between completion of high school and dental school admission, female gender, better rank in admission test, class attendance rate, and student workload hours in teaching, research, and extension. [7]

Majority of the respondents were females, a trend seen in majority of dental schools in India. Increase in female enrollment in dental schools may be attributed to the belief of females about being able to effectively balance personal and professional life, as dental profession allows for a more flexible working schedule. In a study of gender differences in motivations, male students rated self-employment and business-related motives as more important, while female dental students rated people-oriented motives more highly. [2],[3]

Students in the study reported that the decision of choosing dentistry as a career was largely their own decision though they were encouraged by their parents and that support of their parents was crucial. This can be attributed to the fact that Indian parents often take a central role in the decision-making process of their children. In a Nigerian study, fathers were the most important factor in the choice of dentistry as a career. [8] Motives around which decision making of students is organized also revealed that apart from family approval, an interest in medicine science played a major part. Similar to results of our study, interest, prestige, good job opportunity abroad, and regular work hours were the most important factors in the Nigerian study. [8] The authors concluded that choice of dentistry was based on an image and concept of dentistry as a vehicle for the achievement of personal goals, such as good job opportunity abroad, financial independence, and prestige. However, rather than material rewards, the motivating factors for career in dentistry should dominantly involve factors such as intellectual challenge, manual dexterity, and caring nature of dentistry. [8] Dentistry provides a clear avenue for pupils from scientific background wishing to pursue an academic career. [3] It not only gives an opportunity for self-employment, but also enjoys a prestigious position in the healthcare profession.

In a study of Arab dental students, 'prestige' and 'helping people' were important motivating factors in the group of dental students. [9] A study by Scarbecz and Ross organized students' motives around four themes: People, money, flexibility, and business factors. [2] In a study in North India, 53.7% of the students reported pursuing dentistry because it offers stable work; is highly paid (38.7 percent); and due to the ease in finding a regular job in dental schools or hospitals (7.6%). Flexibility (44.4%) and being self-employed (36.6%) were also acknowledged as important motivating factors. Overall, this study found that financial and professional factors were the chief criteria for students pursuing dentistry in India; however, the strongest influence in the choice of dentistry was the students' parents or family. [5]

In a comparison of the study motives of senior undergraduate medical and dental students in Iran, the factor analysis identified six motivational items: Social and professional status, healthcare and people, others' recommendation, personal interest and nature of occupation, occupational experience, and personal life. Medical students were more influenced by playing a role in community health and personal interest, while dental students were motivated by work independence and social factors. [10] A study in Brazil demonstrated the choice for dentistry made on the basis of economic reasons (73.5%), vocational reasons such as interacting with others and helping people (68.3%), professional reasons (67.8%), and personal reasons (56.6%). [11]

A study in United Kingdom found that the single major influence on choice of career was a desire to work with people and that Indian students were twice as likely to report this as compared to other ethnic groups. [3] Job security followed by regular working hours were top influences for males, whereas degree leading to recognized job and a desire to work with people were the most important factors influencing choice of dentistry as a career for females. In contrast to our study, influence of family and friends were the least acknowledged in the study.

In congruence with other studies, engaging in postgraduate studies was the first career preference among the students. [10] Regarding the preference of specialties, in the study in north India, 79.1% said they want to become specialists in the field of dentistry; oral surgery was the leading choice followed by orthodontics. [5]

Few students showed enthusiasm for pursuing further studies or working abroad. Continuing one's education abroad presents many difficulties; including getting an entry visa, the risk of homesickness, the high costs, and cultural, social, and political complications. Plans to work abroad or in private urban setups suggest that students have image of dentistry as a vehicle for the achievement of personal goals. [8] Students did not prefer working in a government setup, but reported a preference for pursuing a private practice, probably because of the heavy workloads and poor pay in the former setup. [12] To maximize efficient delivery of oral healthcare, the issue of making the practice of dentistry more attractive and lucrative to potential dental students who wish to practice in rural areas should be promoted, especially in a developing country like India. [13]

While exploring the postgraduate aspirations of the students, it was observed that oral surgery was the most sought after subject in dental specialty areas, probably because it provides an opportunity to perform maxillofacial surgery, fulfills a desire to teach dental students and surgical residents, and is associated with good monetary return. [13] The choice of orthodontics has been seen to decrease over time in a study by Freire et al., whereas opting for implantology and esthetics (cosmetic dentistry) has increased. [14] In a study by Scarbecz and Ross, females showed a greater interest in pediatric dentistry than male counterparts. [15] Some Canadian dental schools are implementing mentorship programs, where students have the opportunity to observe and interact with clinicians, who would then encourage and guide the next generation toward the future by providing opportunities to clarify goals, values, and professional choices. [16]

A change in career may be planned by some students due to decrease in satisfaction with what they aspire to do in life and dissonance between expectations and reality in the dental student experience. [13] Research involvement of some extent should be a part of undergraduate curriculum as it is a great stimulus for self-directed learning and cultivates critical attitudes. [17] In the north Indian study, only 11.7% reported wanting to pursue dentistry for research purposes. [5] An attitude of being lifelong researcher, besides a practitioner should be inculcated. There has been debate regarding the shortfall in graduates from professional degrees who opt to include research in their career plans. A study in Turkey found that students research projects contributes to their educational process and academic success. [18] This means that designing courses which cover research related skills can be accomplished without adding further pressure to the already crowded curricula. [19]

Our study agreed that despite the students' perception of the dental profession as stressful and demanding, students showed a positive perception regarding dental profession. [13] This was probably because they were the primary decision makers regarding the choice of career. The undergraduate cohort in the study represents a picture of a happy group of students, and this reflects a positive academic and clinical environment. In a study of interns, assessment of students' perceived learning experience at the time of graduation from a dental school in India showed that 95% of the graduates were satisfied with the curriculum. [20] There is a need to facilitate career satisfaction, despite the length and cost of training. It is important that students have realistic expectations for a career; inability to do so can lead to professional dissatisfaction, resulting in dentists who do not practice with optimal enthusiasm and operational efficiency. [21]

The study has few limitations. The sample size is very small and thereby limits the scope of students' perceptions. Moreover, mutual influence between the students could not be ruled out. The data is from a specific region, so results cannot be generalized. Some bias is inherent in a self-reported survey research. The methodology relied on frequencies; a detailed descriptive analysis would lend more strength to the results. Future research using randomly selected larger sample size from other institutions is warranted to validate these findings.

  Conclusion Top

Research into motivations and expectations is vital to influence professional and policy decisions. A wide range of factors influence the choice of dentistry as a profession. In this study, personal factors strongly influenced the students' intrinsic motivation for pursuing dentistry. A strong parental influence on career choice was acknowledged by the students though the primary influence reported was a decision made by the students themselves. The main motives for pursuing a career in dentistry involved students' vision of a bright future in terms of prestige and social status, interest in medicine, independence in job, and being able to help people. Future aspirations of the interns predominantly involved pursuing a postgraduation degree or working in a dental clinic.

  Acknowledgement Top

The author wishes to thank the dental interns for participating in this study.

  References Top

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10.Vahid Dastjerdi M, Mahdian M, Vahid Dastjerdi E, Namdari M. Study motives and career choices of Iranian medical and dental students. Acta Med Iran 2012;50:417-24.  Back to cited text no. 10
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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]

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