It’s Not Easy Being a Woman in Dentistry

In Motivating Women, She's an Entrepreneur by Linda Miles

Imagine how it was for the very first woman in dentistry.

Some would say, “It’s not easy being a woman in dentistry.” And if you think it’s tough now, imagine how it was for the very first woman in dentistry in what was generally a male-dominated profession. It was hearsay that dentistry started out as a “good ol’ boy network,” with little consideration or hope that women in dentistry would come, make a difference and stay. Not only have the female dental workforce stayed, they now outnumber their male counterparts as recent grads. And many of these women have ultra-successful practices, are entrepreneurial, are active in organized dentistry, and enjoy a balanced quality of life.

What makes dentistry attractive to women? The very same things that brought everyone to the profession—the autonomy of being able to start or buy a practice and being one’s own boss now or in the years to come, making a decent living while changing the smiles and lives of patients, having an opportunity to continue learning and perfecting one’s trade, and no or few weekends, holidays or late shift hours. And if you ask many women working in the dentistry field, the opportunity to be successful even part-time while raising a family.

Dentistry goals are hard to reach.

But alas, dentistry’s changing. Those initial goals of young practitioners are now more difficult to reach as changes take place.

One of the changes happening is the growth of corporate or group practices owned by someone else. For women in dentistry, the offer is attractive due to the fact they can have a guaranteed paycheck, benefits, continuing education opportunities and the corporation or owner dentist handles personnel (hiring, training, and compensation). There are no overhead concerns, and management consultants are hired and paid by the corporation or the owner dentist.

Another change taking place is the reduced reimbursement by insurance companies, making it more and more difficult to increase net profits. Smart women in dentistry know that in order to compete they must step up marketing efforts, provide team training to increase efficiency and become better communicators/listeners to have better case acceptance. They and their teams must treat every patient as though they are special to cultivate ambassadors who bring in family, friends, and co-workers.

Social media has become a real player in the growth of dental practices today. Women in dentistry who wish to stay on the cutting edge and in the top 20 percent of practices, success-wise, must rely on an outstanding website and positive reviews on social media.

There are positives for a woman in the dentistry field.

One of the biggest and most positive changes for women in dentistry has been the myth buster that women are not as competitive, and therefore won’t be as successful as their male counterparts! Not true based on the women in dentistry I’ve met and had the pleasure of consulting and meeting in my audiences over the past three decades.

One of the positives of being a woman in dentistry is that more than 80 percent of all dental appointments are made by female patients for their family. Many women assume that female caregivers are more caring and gentle in the delivery of care, especially if both are moms. Many male patients have told me that they chose a female practitioner because they have small hands and seem more interested in small talk to alleviate any nervousness the patient may have. They are presumed less annoyed if shows any sign of apprehension of being in a dental chair. Men prefer to show their macho side to male dentists.  They don’t always feel macho in a dental setting.

Women are intuitive about each other.

Believe it or not, even though we hear women in dentistry complain about being a woman with all female team members, women in dentistry have better luck in selecting the best team member over their male counterparts. As I have said in my seminars for years, “If you are a male who hires 98-percent female workers, always have a female assist with the pre-interviewing and selection process.” It is a known fact that women on interviews can spot losing work traits in other females more easily. Male employers miss those traits all too often. Call it women’s intuition, but it is true.

Women in dentistry are much quicker letting an employee go after two or three corrective reviews if there is little or no improvement by that employee. Many male dentists hate staff confrontations so they tend to sweep the issues under the rug and hope they go away by pretending there isn’t an issue. Women in dentistry on the other hand love to nip things in the bud BEFORE they become destructive to other employees, the practice or before the issues cause a loss of patients.

It’s always good to take a look back to see how far you’ve come.

Anytime a woman working in the dentistry field today feels that they are fighting any type of battle in what used to be a male-dominated profession before 1981, they should read the following:

Emeline Roberts Jones

Emeline Roberts Jones is most likely known as the first woman to practice dentistry. Jones was interested in dentistry, but dental colleges in the 1800s didn’t admit women. Determined to learn dentistry on her own, Jones secretly practiced on discarded teeth she obtained through her husband’s dental practice. In 1855, her husband allowed her to join his practice. In 1864, Jones’ husband passed away and she continued the dental practice to support her children. According to the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, Jones was the first woman dentist nationally recognized at the 1893 World’s Columbian Dental Congress.

Lillian Lindsay

Lillian Lindsay was a pioneer for women in dentistry in the United Kingdom. In 1895, Lindsay graduated with LDS and was the first woman to qualify as a dentist in the United Kingdom. Women from the United Kingdom would often travel to the United States to acquire training as a dentist. Lindsay also became the first woman to join the British Dental Association in November of 1895.

Lucy Hobbs Taylor

Lucy Hobbs Taylor is known as the first woman in the world to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1866. As a teacher in Michigan, she roomed with a physician, and this sparked her interest in medicine. She moved to Cincinnati, where she was going to enroll in medical school, but the school refused her entrance and told her to pursue dentistry. In 1861, Taylor then went on to The Ohio College of Dentistry, where the faculty refused to admit her.

The dean of the college, Jonathan Taft, decided to teach Taylor in his office. Taylor went on to open up her own practice in Iowa without a degree. The Iowa State Dental Society succeeded at pressuring the Ohio College of Dentistry to enroll Taylor as a student. Lucy Hobbs Taylor was only required to attend one session before she graduated with her DDS.

By 1900, almost 1,000 women had followed Lucy Hobbs Taylor into dentistry, an increase many attribute largely to her accomplishments. In 1983, the American Association of Women Dentists honored Taylor by establishing the Lucy Hobbs Taylor award, which AAWD now presents annually to AAWD members in recognition of professional excellence and achievements in advancing the role of women in dentistry.

Thankfully, these pioneer women came, they made a difference and they stayed. Who would have ever believed some 150 years later, recent female grads in dentistry now outnumber their male classmates?

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