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Number of women dentists is on the rise

ADA asks: How is membership valuable to this growing segment of the profession?

April 23, 2012

By Karen Fox, ADA News staff

Dr. Kari Cunningham is in a pediatric dental residency program at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine in her hometown of Cleveland.

A recipient of a National Health Service Corps scholarship, Dr. Cunningham will have a four-year service commitment to a health professional shortage area and complete her clinical training without educational debt. She credits her involvement in organized dentistry through the American Student Dental Association with providing “substance to my application which ultimately resulted in admittance to a pediatric dental residency.”

Dr. Cunningham

Her career received an added boost through an Annual Session course on federally qualified health centers. “I was able to hear from, ask questions of and keep in contact with ADA leaders who are dental directors and clinicians in these health centers across the nation,” she said, gaining valuable insight that she’ll use as she launches her career providing care to children in underserved communities.

Dr. Cunningham is one of several dentists featured in a new ADA membership campaign about women dentists. In testimonials that will result in direct mailers and other communications, women dentists look back on their careers and talk about how organized dentistry supported them along the way.

The number of women dentists entering the profession has grown considerably. Since 2001, the total market of active licensed women dentists has gone from 26,870 to 47,814—a 43.8 percent increase. By the end of 2011, 29,055 women were members of the ADA.

The ADA works to support all dentists. As more women become dentists, they are finding that organized dentistry gives them the tools they need to be successful. However, statistics show that women dentists join at a slightly lower rate than the membership overall. Raising awareness about the value of membership among nonmember women dentists is a priority for the Association.

Dr. Danielle Ruskin is another dentist in the campaign who talks about learning the value of organized dentistry through ASDA. The chair of the ADA New Dentist Committee is a solo practitioner in a small practice in New Hudson, Mich., that suits her needs as a dentist with young children.

“For women who have limited time—either practicing part time of if they just have a full life—you know that your voice is heard in organized dentistry,” she said, adding that being a member gives her a better awareness of issues that impact the dental profession.

“If you’re a younger practitioner, it’s important to be a part of organized dentistry now,” said Dr. Ruskin. “The landscape is changing, and when it comes to legislative issues, you know that dentists are making a difference and influencing these issues.”

Dr. Weisfuse
“What I value most in membership is the knowledge that I am supporting my profession, and this organization is doing all it can to keep us safe and thriving,” said Dr. Deborah Weisfuse, the first female president-elect of the New York State Dental Association, who practices in New York City. Membership gives her the “peace of mind that the issues that concern us as dentists are being dealt with.”

Earlier in her career, Dr. Weisfuse said she was often the only woman dentist at meetings. “I was determined to develop my career in an equal fashion, so I kept going,” she said, “just to wait around for there to be more women dentists, and there are at this time.”

Dr. Anita Elliott, a past president of the Arizona Dental Association, said organized dentistry provides tangible benefits and others less visible but equally important.

“Life insurance through the ADA Insurance Plans is a huge benefit. There is significant buying power for members through products and services offered by ADA Business Resources. I use endorsed products all the time. It’s so much easier to know where to turn for day-to-day things like uniforms. Travel benefits are also great,” said Dr. Elliott, who has been in practice ownership for 22 years and built her practice in Chandler, Ariz., from scratch five years ago.

“In this time-crunched world, I can count on the ADA to make my life easier,” said Dr. Elliott. “It’s called membership for a reason. We’re part of a team. I’ve gained interpersonal and leadership skills that I can use in all aspects of my life.”

Dr. Ruchi Sahota, a general dentist and past chair of the ADA New Dentist Committee, credits a woman dentist with the mentoring that led to her career success—her mother, Dr. Maninder K. Nijjar, with whom she practices in Fremont, Calif.

“She’s been practicing for 25 years,” Dr. Sahota said of Dr. Nijjar. “I get great advice from this experienced woman all day.”

Being involved in organized dentistry at all levels was something her mother encouraged from the beginning. “Who else is going to do it? We need to be members and not rely on other people to make the profession as great as it can be,” said Dr. Sahota.

Dr. Sahota

She appreciates that the ADA is involved in scientific issues and communicates news to members electronically. “I know what’s going on nationally that impacts me and dentistry. I feel more connected to the profession with this information,” Dr. Sahota said.

“When you’re a practice owner and have other things going on in your life, you need the support of organized dentistry,” she continued. “Women like to get together and learn from each other.”

As dentists who have had active careers in organized dentistry, the dentists in the campaign have words of advice for women dentists just starting out.

“It is absolutely essential for any young dentist to become a member if they want to do their share to safeguard this profession for their professional lives,” said Dr. Weisfuse.

“We need leadership to represent the profession, and the ADA cares about that,” said Dr. Sahota. “It’s not just about having women dentists in leadership but about what they can bring with different experiences and perspectives.”

Dr. Cunningham said the ADA has done a good job involving women in the organization but “there’s always room for improvement.”

“Being a member has put me in front of several leaders with innovative thoughts, new ideas and kind hearts,” said Dr. Cunningham. “I have learned a great deal from my colleagues, and I use my experience in organized dentistry to make a difference in my own community.”