Local New York dental society helps new dentists with debt

New dentists: SDDS Loan Forgiveness Program winners Drs. Elliot Haber (far left), Jacqueline Pierre (second from right) and Mitchell Zientz stand with president Dr. Sari Rosenwein (second from left) and SDDS immediate past president Dr. Gabriel Ariola (center). A fourth winner, Dr. Alena Sergaeva, is at left.

New York — In an effort to help new dentists overcome the burden of dental school debt, the Second District Dental Society in Brooklyn decided to do something to help.

The society started a loan forgiveness program in 2017, awarding a total of $37,500 among four winners: Drs. Jacqueline Pierre, Mitchell Zientz, Elliot Haber and Alena Sergaeva.

“The leadership of the SDDS decided to do something altruistic,” said Dr. Craig Ratner, an SDDS member who served as chairman of the committee that organized the loan forgiveness program. Dr. Ratner is also chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice. “It was genuinely that. It was recognition of the problem dental graduates are having with loan debt.”

Dr. Ratner, active in the dental society for over 25 years, worked with four other SDDS to create program parameters. Any dentist who applied had to be licensed within the last five years, had over $50,000 in dental school loan debt and spent the majority of their time practicing in Brooklyn and/or Staten Island. The applicants were asked to provide dental school transcripts, demographic information and three essays based on questions posted on the SDDS website.

In order to remove bias in choosing the winners, the committee hired International Scholarship Tuition and Services to act as a third-party judge. The essays from the nearly 20 applicants were judged with emphasis on the following criteria: leadership, character, need for debt relief, academic achievement and community service.

The ability to pay off debt is paramount, but some winners said this honor provided more than simply money.

“Obviously, the financial benefit is the big one here,” said Dr. Zientz, one of the winners. “The extras, though, have been really connecting with my colleagues that tirelessly serve with the SDDS, relief to help keep growing my practice, investing in more courses to grow as a dentist and as a liaison to future applicants and award recipients. The number of those involved here at the local level is quite small compared to the population and hopefully this award will also spur more dentists young and old to see the value and be present more.”

Dr. Zientz used his essay to describe how a smaller debt burden will allow young dentists to better impact the community. Two years ago, Dr. Zientz purchased a practice in Brooklyn from a retiring dentist. Running his own practice means there’s less time for treating the less fortunate or accepting insurance plans with lower paying reimbursements.

“If dentists are just fighting to survive on a personal financial level, working excessive hours — then throw in a family — suddenly things like attending regular dental society meetings, continuing education or committee participation falls to the bottom of the list,” said Dr. Zientz.

“This program allows dentists like myself to continue to focus on service to community and access to care for all,” said Dr. Pierre, another award recipient.

The SDDS has already opened applications for this year’s loan forgiveness program. The leaders are hoping to give out six to eight awards this year, if the resources allow it.

“Organized dentistry gives dentists like myself a community in which to exchange ideas, knowledge and life skills with other professionals,” said Dr. Pierre. “It allows us to learn from one another, and share experiences that can improve not only our clinical practice, but our interactions with one another and our patients.

“This program instituted by the SDDS has affirmed my views of organized dentistry and its importance. I plan to continue to participate in organized dentistry now and into the future.”

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