Excelling as a Female Leader, in and out of the Operatory

In Living Your Strengths by Suzanne Ebert

It will not be just your clinical skills that determine your success, but your leadership ones. As more women enter the field of dentistry, it’s time we take a closer look at our leadership role within it.

Think about this: Even if you’re renowned for your clinical skills, the ability to effectively lead may be the difference between retaining or losing patients and staff and the opportunity to effect change in your community.

Great leaders inspire confidence in others and create loyalty, which results in successful clinical and professional outcomes.

Develop the skills to lead your practice

Start by developing your personal brand or mission statement. When you have a clear vision, stating your values and goals, you have immediate clarity as to how to lead yourself and your team. In short, when you know that you need to enhance (not detract from) your brand, you will be equipped to provide clear, consistent, decisive decision-making — one of the qualities of a great leader.

It is never too late. No matter what career stage you are in, think through your personal goals and write them down. For example:


  • I want to retire by age 59.
  • I want to donate $5,000 to charity every year.

Work-life balance:

  • I want to attend every one of my child’s school events.
  • I want to spend two weeks in Europe every spring.


  • I want to provide care to underserved populations.
  • I want to focus on full-mouth reconstructions.

Core values:

  • I value recognition, family, and charity.
  • I value financial security, ethics, and stability.

Once you have written down your goals, create a mission statement that reflects who you are and what you want to achieve. Once you are confident in your statement, review it frequently. When I started, I kept it on my desk so I would see it every day.

Your mission statement should become the primary tool to drive your decision-making as you approach various situations.

For instance, when I graduated from dental school, I knew I wanted to be in a practice that provided clinical excellence while being highly patient-centric and 100% fee-for-service. I also knew I wanted to be a hands-on parent for my two young children. Financially, I literally wanted to “not have to worry about going to the grocery store.” Since there was no existing practice in the area that “fit” my personal vision, and I was unwilling to move my growing family, I decided to build it from scratch. This was not the easy choice, but it was the one that allowed me to reach and surpass my objectives without compromising my vision.

Great leaders have engaged staff members

Today, many dentists report having trouble hiring and retaining staff. According to the  ADA’s Health Policy Institute (HPI), only 1/3rd of dentists report being adequately staffed. In that same study, over 60% of owner dentists report staffing as a primary problem despite the fact that many dentists have increased compensation substantially since 2020.

There are some common themes in conversations with dental auxiliaries, hygienists, and office managers. Specifically, we often hear that the real reason for leaving an office is that team members do not feel supported by the dentist(s) in the practice. They feel that their career has stagnated and their contributions are not appreciated. Interestingly, they rarely talk about financial incentives (although many mention a lack of health insurance benefits as a key issue).

Great leaders manage to find ways to keep staff members engaged, leading to loyalty and retention. Honestly, it all comes back to being true to your vision.

To start, hire those who embrace your mission. The best way to retain staff starts long before their first day: find the right person for the practice rather than the first available person. The reality is that having the wrong person in the seat is ultimately more costly and stressful than not having the seat filled.

Embrace the fact that specific skills can be trained. It is vitally important to find someone with the right personality, a strong work ethic, and similar expectations about the role. This is especially true for dental assistants and office staff who can be trained ‘on the job’.

For example, my best team members had no dental experience when they started. I hired them based on their willingness to learn, commitment to customer service, and desire to build their skills in ways that supported me, and the practice’s mission.

Whether you are working with a new staff person or a long-standing one, be sure to invest in them. Invite them to voice their opinions and provide feedback, work with them to determine how to best develop their skills, treat them with respect, and provide clear direction and consistent feedback.

Finally, celebrate your staff’s successes, share positive comments from patients, and do little things to show your appreciation, like surprise treats or extra PTO. Make sure you look for ways to help staff achieve their own work-life balance and professional goals.

Leadership extends beyond the office door

It’s time for our female dentists to bring these skills into all areas of their lives, including family and community. Bringing positive leadership to your life outside the office will ultimately bring you personal satisfaction along with professional success. If you are willing to expand your leadership skills beyond your office door, you may find yourself effecting change within your immediate community or even within your profession.

Great leaders never stop looking for opportunities to share their skills, and it makes no difference when in your career you begin this journey. For example, becoming active in my dental component association after my children left for college led to interactions that ultimately helped secure dental care for homeless veterans, low-income geriatric adults, and other underserved individuals in the community. In addition, by taking an active role as a parent, I could mentor young women and even take my daughter’s softball team to the state championship game! Being a leader in the community will provide you not only with high-quality clients that lead to financial success, it will also provide an abundance of personal satisfaction.

Effective leaders can motivate, inspire, encourage excellence and positively connect with people, leading to success in the clinical, personal, and business realms. When you take the time to develop these critical skills, you can reap the rewards in and out of the operatory.

Writing this blog has inspired me to reevaluate my own personal mission statement and reminds me of one of the most important qualities of great leaders — they never stop learning and evolving.

About Dr. Suzanne Ebert

Suzanne Ebert, DMD, is the VP of Dental Professional Career Services at the American Dental Association. She leads the vision to provide an end-to-end career experience, delivering resources, tools, and guidance for dentists along every stage of their journey. Prior to joining the ADA, Dr. Ebert’s career took her through starting and selling a solo practice, serving as adjunct faculty and extramural rotation director, as well as serving as the dental director at a Federally Qualified Health Center. She is a strong advocate for the profession and is passionate about providing dentists with the tools they need to make the decisions that are right for them.