The percentage of women in dentistry continues to rise, but only a few short decades ago it was much rarer to find a female clinician. It’s easy to forget the degree of struggle women faced in the twentieth century if they wanted to get a degree and then maintain their career (a struggle that – of course – hasn’t been fully remedied).
Dr. Glenda Owen graduated from dental school in the early 80s. In the following story, she relates what it was like to face negativity, criticism, and roadblocks as she strived to be and remain a dentist …
What It Was Like to Be a Woman in Dentistry in the 80s and 90s
In the 1990s, surveys showed that women physicians practiced on average only seven years. Many said the same statistics probably applied to women dentists. They predicted training women to be dentists could be a waste of time and precious resources.
When I was a second year dental student, my academic advisor (an oral surgeon) gave me some stern advice. Since I was a divorcee (his word), he warned me about spending too much time on my social life:
“Remember, you are taking up a spot in the class that could be used by a man who will use his training to support his family. More than likely, you will graduate, remarry, and just stay home with kids and clean toilets.”
He really said that.
My response was to ask, “Do you have any idea what it took for me to get here?”
Then I explained my path – 56 hours of post-baccalaureate math and science courses taken at night while working full-time supporting my soon-to-be ex-husband as he was going through dental school. It took me three years to do that. “Do you really believe,” I asked, “that after all of that, I am going to stay home to raise kids and clean toilets?”
That was in 1978. I graduated in 1981. The dentistry landscape has changed radically for all of us since then. There is little I do now that I did in dental school except for gold crowns and onlays and the very occasional amalgam. Technology has allowed our materials and procedures to change at seemingly warp speed. Keeping up requires intention and tenacity.
To be continued …
What changes have you seen in the experience of being a female dentist? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!