Utah Orthodontist, Dr. Mike Meru was featured yesterday in The Wall Street Journal for his outlier status of being one of 101 people in the US with a seven-figure student debt. I find the article interesting for many reasons but it leaves me with more questions than answers. First and foremost on my mind is, “What did Dr. Meru expect the response to his plight to be?” (a friend has since suggested that perhaps he was hoping for a stranger to set up a GoFundMe.com campaign for him). If one scans some of the 1300+ comments that have already cropped up, almost none are sympathetic and most are scathing. But not scathing in a mean way, rather they point out what should be obvious to all of us who CHOOSE to pursue higher education and professional status. I also wonder if this doctor realizes that any time someone Google’s his name, for the rest of his life, this article will likely be the first thing that comes up. I hear he’s attempting to open a practice in Utah (the most competitive orthodontic market on the planet) and I wonder how much this article will help him. I assume that Dr. Meru assumed that doing this article would be good for him in many ways. Why else would he do it? But I’m afraid it won’t work out well and I point this out only in the hopes that other orthodontists and residents will finally realize what I’ve been saying for years…

No one feels sorry for you, no one cares how much debt you have, if you choose to make family/personal decisions instead of business decisions there are consequences and being a doctor doesn’t entitle you to anything other than what you owe.

No one is going to save you. Congress doesn’t care about your debt – you make way to much money for anyone to care. You have to save yourself. If you want to be a dentist/orthodontists that’s fine as they are great professions but you have to also choose to do what it takes to be successful instead of just earning your degrees at any cost. Live conservatively, really conservatively, don’t buy a house, don’t have kids until you can afford to, don’t go on vacations don’t practice in a super competitive area unless you have a big competitive edge (one that consumers care about – one that has nothing to do with the brackets you use or quality), live and work where there is a need, pay down your debt, put some money in the bank THEN go do what you want because then you have truly earned the right (and the means) to do so. I know I’m a terrible person for saying all of this but you can be indignant and broke or listen and thrive. Or perhaps you should choose not to go into dentistry if you find all of this terribly offensive. It’s right there in the WSJ article in black and white that dentistry is the most expensive educational path out there, after all.

If you choose, you can still make a great living in dentistry and orthodontics but only if you’re smart about it and leave your entitlement at the door. What we do is called work for a reason! Once you get out, find people who are successful in practice instead of people who are just successful in talking about practice to listen to and emulate. Remember that most of your full time professors are full time professors because they cannot do what you aspire to and keep in mind the AAO’s goal is to get YOU to pay THEM! If you keep doing what everyone else is doing how can you hope to have different results? What we do is simple and it has much more to do with making people happy on THEIR terms and within THEIR constraints than just about anything else. What we orthodontists like or want or “are willing to do” just doesn’t come into play much anymore.

PS It’s been alleged by more than one person that official representatives of the AAO asked Dr Meru to do this article in hopes that the press coverage would spark a conversation in Congress about student loan legislation. I’m trying to verify this but if true this is perhaps the most ignorant, stupid, naïve, ham handed move I’ve ever seen the AAO make (and I’ve seen a few). If the AAO thought for one second that anything positive would come from this or that the public would be the slightest bit  sympathetic to Dr Meru’s plight that is pathonumonic for our member organization being totally out of touch and living in a dream world with no sense of reality. If you know about this or can put me in touch with Dr Meru so I can ask him how it went down pls message me.

PPS The comments on the piece are at 1700 and still going. Dr Meru’s Instagram account is being circulated and the photos are not being well received. Again this is instructional and posted in the hopes that orthodontic residents and young orthodontists will realize the importance of fiscal responsibility and public perception. The right to be a professional comes with a great many responsibilities and no small amount of scrutiny.

PPS I now have iron clad confirmation that two officials from the American Association of Orthodontists asked Dr. Meru to do the WSJ article. I know which departments and I’m in the process of running down exactly who these AAO officials are (and why they thought this was a good idea) as well as who in the AAO higerarchey thought this was a good idea.

6 thoughts on “Orthodontist with $1,000,000.00 in Student Debt

  1. Haven’t agreed with you in a while, B – finally in agreement.

  2. I didn’t know it was my job to agree with anyone but I’m glad you’re happy with this one Sheldon. Have a great weekend.

  3. “Student loans not equal a lottery ticket.” Saw this on the Student doctor Network before I went back to school. You can make an awesome living in ortho as long as you understand the student loans as an investment, not a ticket to making money. Like you said Ben, approach your career like a CEO would with a plan to make money back. $60,000/year in loan payments ain’t so bad if you’re making $500,000/year. It is if you’re making $175,000. Be smart and invest more than just money in your career.
    But, loans that are way higher than prime rate, compounded interest and payments due from day1, as well as no deductibility on taxes certainly doesn’t help the matter. There needs to be good attention to this from all sides. He borrowed $600,000 and now owes $1.1 million. That’s just crazy.

  4. Sell your house and get a cheaper one or rent.Sell your car and buy a cheaper used good quality vehicle.Have your wife work.Stop travelling the world .Practise in an area that is under serviced .Have a good conversation with yourself as to how you got into this situation .No one owes you a living and stop whining !!
    PS The above works -It did for me !

  5. Taxpayers are getting hosed on the student loan debt scams. So, who is making a killing?

    That’s the dental education-industrial complex. While faculty earns peanuts, the deans are hauling in SERIOUS dollars.

    Anyone recall the debacle of OrthoAlliance in the orthodontic residency programs? The deans were only too happy to accept added funding & expand programs. When the bottom fell out, the young residents were left high-&-dry. The program chairs & deans took no responsibility. However, they were only too pleased to accept corporate dentistry’s $$$, regardless of potential negative future consequences.

    I would almost term these sorts of deans as “whores”. However, that would be very unfair to those honest hard workers, in the sex trade industry.

    Michael W Davis, DDS
    Santa Fe, NM

  6. Bravo Dr. Davis. ‘Whores’ actually do quite a bit of work.

    When UCLA started calling me a couple of years ago on their predictable panhandli, I told the caller in no uncertain terms to lose my contact and never call again. I will never donate a cent to the school, ever. Ever.

    Unlike Meru, I lived very frugally and will by early next year pay free my sinews note. Since I already finished my student loans already (in 13 months), I will be complete debt free. I will have paid 720k in loans in 3 years by then. Completely debt free

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