To many, orthodontists are specialists in the profession of orthodontics. To others, orthodontists are specialists in the profession of dentistry. According to the government, orthodontists are engaged in the occupation of orthodontics. Some might say orthodontists pursue a trade, line of work, business, craft, vocation, career, calling, or métier. But regardless of the category into which you place orthodontics, you will be interested to learn that U.S. News and World Report has declared that an orthodontist possesses the best job in the United States. That’s right, in a January 26, 2016, article called “The 100 Best Jobs,” being an orthodontist is considered the best job in the whole country.
This is, in many ways, amazing. This is first time in the history of the rankings of U.S. News and World Report that “orthodontist” has been considered the number 1 job in the country. Comparatively speaking, it means that every other job in the United States is considered less desirable. This includes dentist (2), oral and maxillofacial surgeon (10), surgeon (16), physician (19), and even lawyer (71).
Much of the information on which the ranking was prepared is drawn from data compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. From a list of about 1000 jobs, U.S. News and World Report first selects the occupations that will have the most openings between 2014 and 2024. This reduces the number of jobs considered to the top 100. Subsequently, the final ranking from 1 to 100 is based on 7 components: median salary, employment rate, 10-year growth volume, 10-year growth percentage, future job prospects, stress level, and the work-life balance that can be expected by those engaged in the job.
The January report pointed out that overall salaries for health care jobs are among the highest in the nation. The mean salary for orthodontists in 2014 was reported to be $201,030, just below that of oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Anesthesiologist, obstetrician and gynecologist, and physician were among the other highest paying jobs. The states where orthodontist was the highest paying job included Texas ($255,130), Oregon ($241,270), and New Hampshire ($268,960); the states with the highest salaries for orthodontists ($241,930-$268,960) included Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, and New Hampshire. According to the report, the best cities to practice orthodontics from an income perspective include Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Wichita, Boston, and Atlanta.
The 10-year growth percentage suggested that orthodontics will grow by 18% by 2024, based on an increase of 1500 new orthodontists. It is anticipated that this increase will be driven by an increase in the demand for specialized dental care. Unemployment for orthodontists is expected to be very low, as it is now.
The stress level associated with being an orthodontist was estimated to be below average, and this is fairly easy to appreciate. High-stress jobs are associated with a lower quality of life and can negatively affect health. Fortunately, stress is relatively low in orthodontics; contrary to many jobs in the health care industry, mortality and morbidity issues are almost absent. The practice of orthodontics is seldom monotonous because challenges are generally present, and they are well matched to the educational background and experience of the orthodontist. Patients generally do not dread going to their appointments and very much look forward to the outcome of treatment, where it is a reasonable expectation that their looks will be enhanced and the functions of their teeth and jaws improved. When everything is going well, orthodontics is a pleasure to practice since it affects the lives of patients and doctors in positive ways.
In terms of attaining a work-life balance, orthodontists have considerable flexibility (according to the report, above average). Most orthodontists are their own bosses; this allows great freedom in determining where and when they will practice, how their offices will be run, and how their other interests in life will be defined and conducted. This blend of family, fun, and work is malleable; this is an enviable freedom.
You may ask at this point why it is important to acknowledge and celebrate this accolade in U.S. News and World Report . First, it should be a point of pride that you have the best job in this country. You made the decision to pursue and acquire the training necessary to become an orthodontist, at a cost of considerable time, money, and effort; this report says that you were smart in making that decision. You made a great and respectable career choice; no one has a better job than you.
For those looking for a more practical answer, consider if you will that this report appeared in a magazine that is widely distributed around the world. Its contents are also repackaged and repeated by many other media outlets including business journals, newspapers, radio, and television, and across the Internet. The public relations opportunity of this report is immense, for each report of this ranking carries with it a grain of truth that not only explains what an orthodontist is and what an orthodontist does, but also is positive in its message and in no way can be considered self-serving. According to the article, there is a future for orthodontists that involves growth, a comfortable salary, low unemployment, low stress, and a great work-life balance.
Please realize, however, that I am not delusional; orthodontics is a great job, but it is not perfect. Across our history, there have been many challenges that needed solutions, and there will be more in the future. At present, the pressing issues include a declining birth rate, a sluggish economy, and increased competition among orthodontists, dentists, other specialists, and those offering direct-to-consumer products.
So what to do? Orthodontics is and will be a great opportunity for a rewarding career. We should work to make it better, not knock it down. We should celebrate when we can and be serious and thoughtful when we need to be. I once had a student who practiced dentistry for a while before she entered the orthodontic program. She was very “tightly wound,” determined, and serious about everything. One day, she was moving from task to task at a gallop with a serious frown on her face. I stopped her in the hallway to ask what the problem was, and she began a long discourse about all that was going wrong with patients, parents, and on and on. I let her conclude and then in gross overstatement, I said, “I want you to realize something … that the worst day as an orthodontist is still better than the best day as a general practitioner.” She thought for a moment and then smiled, turned, and slowly walked away laughing. It’s good to be an orthodontist, and every once in a while it’s good to realize that.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.