Mike Meru, Where Are You?

“Ortho degree does not equal a lottery ticket.”
Seen on Student Doctor Network before applying to ortho residency

By now, we’ve all heard of the front page article in the Wall Street Journal in which Mike Meru, a Utah orthodontist with over $1 Million in student debt was featured to illustrate the heavy price paid for an orthodontic education. Many reading this post (myself included) understand the significant costs to becoming an orthodontist and essentially going to school through grade 23. Many have pointed fingers at him because of the article’s mention of his Mercedes and Tesla and nice home, but I think we’re falling prey to misdirection. Like a magician getting you to focus on the hand while the Rabbit is up the sleeve.
There are a lot of great points to both sides of the arguments for and against allowing someone to get into so much debt, and I can see both sides. Sure, we all went into the process with our eyes open, but did we really? Are we to expect that a 24-26 year old really understands the ramifications of long term student debt and are we to believe that the schools who continually raise the prices to entry and the federal government, which allows higher rates and compounded interest on the loans with no deductibility and higher interest rates are not somewhat culpable in this whole process?
When I applied to dental school, way back in what feels like the 1840’s, I got into all 6 schools to which I applied. I valued my acceptance to a fine private school in the Northeast (and recently found my acceptance letter framed in my parents’ attic) but my father had me speak to a dentist from the aforementioned school to “talk some sense into me”. He convinced me that if he could do it all over again, he would have attended a less expensive dental school and I happily went the state school route (as I did for college). I never regretted the decision.
Then came ortho residency.
We all would love to have wealthy benefactors who could pay for our education or to have attended a program that paid us, but in the uber-competitive environment that is ortho school admissions, the old saying “you go where you get in” is a truism. It angers me to hear that there are only 101 people in the entire United States with more than $1 million in loans, and I personally know of several orthodontists who are pretty close to that exclusive list.
But why does this affect orthodontics? Our medical peers get paid to train beyond medical school and so do our oral surgeon colleagues. I understand that they’re working for hospitals, but ortho residents earn a lot of money for dental schools. It’s like the age-old argument of paying college athletes who make money for the schools they attend. Hey, at least they get free tuition, right?
Making matters worse is the fact that student loans have compound interest; You get charged interest on interest AND it starts while you’re in school. The article cited Dr. Meru’s loan company telling him that “…it’s a good idea to make…” payments while he was in school. Really? Spoken like someone who never had loans. If you had extra money, you wouldn’t have taken out loans in the first place.
However, we take out loans and have an obligation to repay them. Whether we liked the terms or not, WE accepted them. So, we must figure out how to do that. Live within your means, follow expert advice, refinance, work the schedule you must to make a living and learn how to run a business. I think that the student loan rules need to be revamped from the way interest is charged to the interest rate limits to the deductibility on tax returns. I also think that schools bear a responsibility to take the business side of orthodontics as seriously as the clinical.
I also feel that most of our peers are being churned out of a machine that gets them heavily in debt with no education of how to pay back their loans and no sense of belonging to a business community. The main reason I started the Orthopreneurs Facebook group was to have a place where we could all help one another become better at business, marketing and leadership.
I LOVE being an orthodontist and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there is a cost associated with it and we all need to face it.
In Dr. Meru’s case, it’s $130/day.
Best wishes,
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If you want to come to learn more about an amazing business meeting for orthodontists, simply visit OP2018.com . We’ve got a world-class lineup of speakers, amazing food and an ambiance that will make you want to come back year after year. You can always email me at Glenn@OrthopreneursRD.com or message me on Facebook. I’m here to help.
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