The idea of an “all-woman dentist” issue of Dentistry Today is intriguing and probably well overdue. With the increase in women attending dental school programs the need for mentors and support mechanisms becomes most prominent. The female perspective is unique. Building the practice from scratch is not easy for anyone and was not a simple endeavor for a single female like myself. My staff consists of mostly women with one young man who aspires to become a colleague. Several hygienists keep me hopping, and my outstanding front office and clinical team help create success. We all work well together, and I believe our patients appreciate the “female touch” we can provide both in the atmosphere created and in clinical treatment. I believe there are several unique experiences that a woman can provide in our profession. We tend to be nurturing and compassionate with empathy.
My personal experience throughout college and in the dental program explains my relationship with other dentists in my southern town. I was one of 8 women in a class of 55 students at the University of Alabama. Once I graduated in 1998 and decided to locate in my hometown of Pensacola, Fla, I found there were many challenges. Interviewing for associateship positions was tedious, as it may still be today for many recent graduates. I worked in a community health clinic until I decided to just start my own practice from the ground up. Finding a location, getting business loans, and designing the building was done with the help of family members and my mother. I wish I could have counted a bit more on support from the surrounding dental community. In my mind this was the only way to establish myself. I tried to go to various local dental society meetings early in my career when I moved back to Pensacola, but often found that I sat alone, without much contact with my colleagues. I’m not sure how to explain this other than to say the engagements were not necessarily female friendly. Certainly, the specialists in the area appreciated my referrals and the supply companies liked my purchases. I am unsure if it’s because I was looked upon as competition, as any newly established dental practice would be, especially as my practice naturally grew.
I consistently strove to increase my clinical experiences and procedures provided to my patients. This created as sense of professionalism, confidence, and competence. In that, self-satisfaction was created.
But it would have been so helpful to have another female mentor to discuss balancing home life and business. While in dental school, I really did not have a female to look up to. I believe now that having such a personality and mentorship will give women dentists today a distinct advantage in this ever-changing world.
I never stopped learning through quality continuing education. The investment in myself was immense, but worth every dime. Maybe the perception of a “boys’ club” in the profession of dentistry is real in my age group, but I hope the concept is diminishing and we woman dentists have paved a way for the next generation of dentists, who just happen to be women.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Tilley is a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Dentistry. She is a native of Pensacola, Fla, and has been practicing dentistry in her hometown since 1998. She is a Fellow of the International College of Dentists and most recently was inducted into the American College of Dentists and the Academy of Dentistry International. Dr. Tilley is member of the AGD, the ADA, the Florida Dental Association, the Alabama Dental Association, the Academy of Laser Dentistry, and the Academy of American Facial Esthetics. Dr. Tilley is also a Fellow with the International Congress of Oral Implantologists. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.