My Unconventional Path to Serving as President of the Chicago Dental Society

In Print Issues, She's Enjoying the Journey by Terri TierskyLeave a Comment

It is April of 2020, and I am writing this article as the world contends with a global pandemic the likes of which we have never seen before. It is an unfortunately dark time in our personal and professional lives. The year 2020 also happens to be the year that I have the distinct honor of serving as president of the Chicago Dental Society. It is rapidly becoming an interesting and challenging time to not only be a dentist, but also a leader within our profession.

Unconventional Path

When I first set out to write this column, I planned on writing a lighthearted piece on my career path and how my involvement in organized dentistry has not only brought me personal fulfillment but how it also put me on a path to the position I am in today, serving as Chicago Dental Society president. I will still write about these things, but I am unsure how lighthearted it will be. My sincere hope is that by the time you are reading this article, we will all be on the other side of this crisis and returning to our “normal” daily routines.

In the 155-year history of the Chicago Dental Society, I am only the fourth female president. I graduated from Loyola University Dental School in 1986, and although I have been involved in organized dentistry since that time, I didn’t initially set my sights on serving the society as an officer. The truth is, I did not even initially set out to be a dentist!

Words that were once spoken by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt ring very true for me: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

I was a political science major at the University of Illinois with my sights clearly set on law school. That path changed suddenly second semester of my junior year when I decided to switch to Pre-Dentistry. How in the world could I possibly fit in all the requirements needed to get into dental school?

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

After becoming a dentist and practicing full time, how could I possibly then go to law school at night and get a law degree?

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

And so I did. This unconventional path led me to dental school first and then law school. While attending law school at night, I practiced dentistry full time during the day. I like to think that my law school education taught me an entirely different way of thinking.  I believe that has had a positive impact on my leadership style, as well as my participation in meetings, such as the House of Delegates of the American Dental Association and the Illinois State Dental Society.

In a somewhat basic assessment of the difference between the two, dental school taught me science; law school taught me theory. Together, both have equipped me with a unique set of skills that have helped me in both my private dental practice and my various leadership roles. For one thing, I feel well equipped to evaluate both sides of an issue objectively before coming to a conclusion.

This unconventional path has allowed me to not only be a part of our wonderful profession but also to have a voice in dentistry’s future.  To be a mentor. To give back through various philanthropic entities and to make lifelong friendships along the way.

Harder for Women

Of the four female CDS presidents, I am only the second to also be a mother. I have a 20-year-old daughter who attends Michigan State University. I think that it is often overlooked how much harder it is for women to have a career. To be involved beyond our offices and raise children. Of course, things have improved greatly since my daughter was born. But I frankly think that as women we will always face different challenges than our male colleagues. That isn’t in any way a bad thing, it’s just the reality of life. I have apologized to my daughter for all of the times meetings took away time that might have been spent with her.  But, I believe that I have shown her that as a woman you really can have it all.

It is vitally important that women of all ages get involved in organized dentistry to some degree. Perhaps your path will also be unconventional, perhaps not. I am certain you are all aware the face of our profession is thankfully changing. Women now make up more than 50% of the students enrolled in dental schools across the country.  And we are seeing an increase in the number of women leaders in both local and state dental societies.

We must keep this trend going.

When I became involved nearly 34 years ago, I was often one of only a few women in the room. It was daunting at times, but I never let my gender define who I was. Or what I had to say. Did I ever feel that I was treated differently because I was a woman? Yes. But I tried to never let that stop me. In fact, it energized me. I have always believed that you don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room to be heard but rather the one that has something important to say. People will listen. To have a hand in your own destiny is fulfilling in ways beyond words. Live your dream, and reach for the stars, even if your path looks different than that of others.

Exciting and Challenging

It is both an exciting and challenging time to be serving as president of the Chicago Dental Society. The pandemic has dentists being forced to close their offices to routine dental care in hopes of keeping ourselves, our families and our patients healthy.  As well as preserving PPE for our emergencies and for those that need it on the front lines of this fight.

I have used this time to look deep within to determine how best to lead from behind the scenes. I remain resolute in trying to live up to what I believe a good leader should be. That includes trying to remain the voice of reason and calm during such a difficult time. Helping anyone who reaches out to me with questions.  Directing the questions that I cannot answer to the appropriate people.  And maintaining virtual contact with my board of directors and staff to keep everyone informed and in touch.

Although video chats and virtual conferencing have proven very useful and provided a fun divergence during this difficult time, I look forward to a time when we can all be together face-to-face and resume business, as usual, to continue to serve our patients and continue our efforts to move the profession forward through organized dentistry.

Leave a Comment