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Tackling financial hardship after graduation

28 October 2022

From rags to riches and back again: Dental practitioner Dr Laura Hunter, Dental Protection's Young Dental Practitioner representative, looks at some unexpected financial situations you can find yourself in as you transition from dental school to working life.

Embarking on the dental school journey is no mean feat and living on a student budget becomes second nature. All the while racking up significant debt and loans over the 5+ years from costs associated with this particular career path. By the end of my time at dental school I liked to joke with my professors whenever another expense cropped up, “Just add it to the tab”. That’s what eight years of university loans will do to you.

It comes as no surprise when we hold on to the beacon of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel, that upon graduating we will finally have a disposable income. That we can start to climb out of the hole that is student budgeting and start to enjoy ourselves. A common question among my classmates was: “What will you spend your first paycheque on?” We explored the lavish ideas of buying the expensive couch, nice dress or even meal out that we had always wanted but could never justify while studying. So, it came as quite a surprise to me that four months after graduating, I sit here with $30 in my account. Arguably worse off financially than when I was a student. Not through a lack of discipline or financial folly, but instead due to a lack of awareness of how costly and slow transitioning from student to work can be, despite your best efforts.

Everything costs – but just how much really?

As we all know, nothing in life is free. And in the case of dentistry nothing is cheap, let alone free. I thought it would be prudent to lay out some of the expenses you can expect when first starting as a practitioner, as well as laying out factors that you may not be aware of (or at least I was not) that require consideration when creating your ‘New Grad Budget’.

As medical professionals we are all required to be registered with AHPRA, a yearly subscription of around $1,200 which I’ve been told hurts every time you pay, but alas is part of being in the business. This is an expense I like to think most graduate dentists are aware of and like myself, add it to the tab.

However, that is merely the beginning.

Then comes the rest of the licensing. Firstly, a radiation licence required for each state. In my case, Victoria. Out goes $200. CBCT? That’ll be extra, out goes another $200. Plus the training course, another $200. You need an updated CPR certificate? Another $200.

Let me just pay for that police check again – $150. Double that if you’re an international practitioner. Working with children check? You guessed it, another $100.

You can sense a pattern here. Pretty quickly you’re out almost two and a half thousand dollars, and you haven’t earned a penny. But you’ve added it to the tab and are ready to begin working right?

Well. Not quite.

Graduates have often moved interstate or internationally to attend dental school and while a few still remain at home or return home to live with family, many will move rurally or to another city for that dream job. It probably doesn’t need to be said but moving isn’t cheap. Having moved eight times in eight years I thought I was as savvy as it gets. But even then, combining movers, truck rentals, new furniture, rent for the month in advance plus the bond for the flash new flat (because we are young professionals now, leaving behind those grubby student flats once and for all) you find yourself, once again, down another two and a half thousand dollars.

But now you are locked and loaded, registration is paid, house sorted, absolutely raring to dive into some exam and cleans headfirst.

This brings me to my next topic, the job.

That first paycheque

We are extremely fortunate to have a career in which job security and income levels will hopefully not be a significant source of stress and anxiety if we manage our time and finances responsibly.

So how have I found myself in this position you may ask?

I, like many graduates, accepted a job towards the end of final year, forecasted my living costs and debt repayments and looked on at my future with somewhat of a smile, knowing that I would be okay. Taking the month off after graduating over Christmas to get some well-deserved post-exams RnR, spending time with the family and getting ready to start the new chapter of your career is pretty typical, and something I would encourage. Therefore, the majority of grads will begin their dental journeys in January.

It is not uncommon for practices to start new grads off with a few weeks to a month of observation and training at a significantly reduced wage, regardless of your status as commission or salary. All the while you are waiting for the provider number that allows you to start practising – average wait time 28 business days. So now you are a large portion through February and the paycheques are barely covering living costs.

You open your books and despite what everyone says it always takes time to fill up days even for the busiest of practices. Weeks can be ‘gappy’ and patients will FTA, it’s just life, so even the first few weeks of ‘dentist pay’ can be less than the desired 40 hours.

But the real kicker is whether pay comes fortnightly or monthly. Count yourself among the lucky if it is fortnightly, otherwise you can see yourself working for a month with nothing to show for it. Suddenly it’s April and you’re wondering where a third of the year has gone.

However, things do start to improve quickly after this point. I found there were very few outgoings requiring such large sums of money once work and life routine was established and that is when the savings can start to accrue substantially. This is where my journey has taken me thus far and reflecting on these past few months I will leave you, the reader, with these four points.

Things I wish I had known...

  Lower your expectations – it takes a lot longer to get ‘there’ than you think. And that’s okay, good things take time.

  Ensure you are living well within your means – stick with the frugal student budget mindset until you are a few paycheques down to help build your base savings.

  Do not wait for your AHPRA and Provider number to come in the mail. Always get on the phone and see where your application is on the waitlist.

•  Always have an emergency savings fund – never ever compromise on having at least six months of basic living costs in an account you never touch. You never know when you’ll need it.








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