Certainly, something comes to mind when you read the following statements:
I am a dentist.
I am female.
I am a female dentist.
What are the first things that you think of when I make those statements? Don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to recreate a women’s liberation movement. I can tell you, however, that I am still fighting my way into the Boy’s Club here. Despite the numbers showing equalized ratios, I have yet to see young male “hotties” hocking the newest dental equipment in journals and at conventions.
I recently saw an advertisement for a golden lead apron, and the very young, female woman model was scantily dressed. Really? Who was that company focusing on for their target market group? Not a mid-30s female dentist, that is for certain. If nothing else, they just lost an educated consumer for life due to their blatantly sexist ad. That is one snippet of the thousands of ads I encounter weekly. If you think that I am exaggerating or blowing this out of proportion, pay attention at your next large state annual session. Just stand in the middle and look around at the vendors. Have you ever wondered why they all seem to have young, attractive women in skirts and heels? Hmmm… A point to ponder.
I expect more from my profession and those who serve it. I have a higher standard for my profession than what I see in the grocery store aisle reading selection. I also know what I have experienced firsthand in my first decade in the profession - some are positives, some are negatives, and some are downright disrespectful.
I was sought after. My partner specifically wanted to bring in a female associate. He was smart enough to recognize the value that the opposite sex can provide for patient care and practice growth. Often, parents want their child to see the “lady doctor.” I have the ability to connect with patients on a level that many male dentists do not, and there are a lot of patients who desire that connection. There are also instances when, as a business partner, I can relate to the staff easier and interpret the situation differently.
I feel that some patients seek me out as an easy target. Patients have had a tendency to demand something of me that I know they wouldn’t dare request of my male partner. Fortunately, I have identified those situations now and have less to contend with.
Let me point out that early in my career I was, without a doubt, more passive and less vocal. I don’t encounter as many issues now, but I still see it happen occasionally. I believe it was my first state annual conference and Tom (now partner, then employer) and I were headed for CE and exhibits. I can recount several instances when I was greeted with “Mrs. Wife, it was nice meeting you.” Reps from large dental companies hadn't made an effort to look at my tag labeling me as a member dentist; they assumed that I was a spouse. Fortunately, Tom handled it well. He told them that I wasn’t his wife but the new doc in the office, and apologized that he didn’t make that clear when they spoke. I have also been mistaken for a team member at a large meeting while our staff was checking in.
It also happens when I call in a prescription for a patient. It often goes something like this:
Me: “Good afternoon, this is Dr. Colleen DeLacy. I am calling in a prescription for Mrs. Jones.”
Pharmacist: “Okay. And your name is?”
Me: “Dr. DeLacy.”
Pharmacist: “Yes. But what is your name?”
Me: “I AM THE DOCTOR.”
What do I do with these experiences? Early on, I would become agitated, annoyed, and angered. Now, I make certain a clear correction is made; it usually causes the person in error to become uncomfortable and notably self-conscious. Is it wrong of me to make the correction? Absolutely not. I have completed the same rigorous curriculum, passed the same boards, and deserve the same respect as my male counterparts.
I would have liked to include factual statistics to demonstrate the increasing trend of female dentists, but most resources I encountered were more than eight years old. With more than 37,000 AGD members, I am curious to know how the male to female ratio of the AGD compares to that of the ADA. Please feel free to comment with your input. I am writing this article the week of my own state's Annual Session, and I plan to comment if my experience is vastly different this year.
Until next time…
Colleen B. DeLacy, DDS