As The Lucy Hobbs Project continues to grow in scope and ambition, four award winners discuss the state of women in our profession — and what the future likely holds.
THE LUCY HOBBS PROJECT, Benco Dental’s ongoing initiative to celebrate and promote the interests of women in dentistry, recently completed its third year of bringing together dental professionals to effect positive industry change through
networking, innovation and giving back. To commemorate,
Incisal Edge gathered four Lucy Hobbs Award winners — those who best embody the spirit of Hobbs herself, who in 1866
became the first American woman to earn a dental degree. What’s the current state of women in dentistry, and what
can the Project do going forward to continue to help? This quartet of groundbreaking women offer their thoughts.
QUESTION: Of the three pillars of The Lucy Hobbs Project — networking, innovation and giving back — which one speaks most to you?
DR. TERRYL PROPPER: I recently initiated a giving campaign to the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center to fund a special-needs clinic. This campaign is focused on women dentists supporting their alma mater; women now make up close to 50 percent of graduating classes. Before I became involved with The Lucy Hobbs Project, I don’t think I would have organized a core group to initiate this grassroots initiative. We haven’t reached our goal, but we’re halfway there.
DR. MARY HARTIGAN: One of the things I’ve noticed locally is that in
academics, women are strong and have a voice. In private practice, it’s different. If we got into the dental schools a bit, we could help female dentists coming in do a couple things: one, to have their voices heard by joining the local dental society. Two, women are different from men — and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to see a blending of the genders, so to speak, where women are just aggressive cowboys. I think we should keep the good, feminine side of us and bring that out, to mentor these women and enable them to participate in the profession and not just be in side study groups.
QUESTION: With dental students, we’ve found that unless someone pushes them to go to those events they shy away a little bit because they’re not quite sure how to fit in.
DR. MARIA MARANGA: Julie, you and I have a common friend, Dr. Mark Bauman, who is a big advocate for women’s issues and women dentists, and he hosts cooking ventures for them. And he wants to keep it that way — he doesn’t want there to be an intertwined event. And I think that’s good. We should stay feminine and not suddenly have to put forth a different image.
DR. LYNDA DEAN-DURU: For me, it was a great honor to have won an award, and inspirational to see so many women come together. Let’s not shy away from places that we think are just men’s territory.
DR. PROPPER: I’m recently back from the ADA convention in Washington, D.C. It struck me how many women are in leadership roles in organized dentistry. The president and immediate past president of the ADA are female; the president and president-elect of the AAE are women; the president of the AAP is female. Women are rising to leadership roles as they mature as leaders and becoming major players in the boardroom and in strategic planning for our associations. Women are great communicators: consensus builders who are able to motivate and inspire others toward a common goal.
DR. MARANGA: Last year, I attended a dinner where I got an award as one of 50 influential businesswomen of Long Island. I tried to get it into my local newspaper, and so did another winner. They said absolutely not, we have too many articles this month. The next month came, and they had another excuse. So I went above them to the editor of the state journal, and she put in the article and the picture. Otherwise no one would have cared. I had to go over the local people — which is risky, because then you make enemies, and you don’t want to do that. It’s only with experience that you’ll learn not to take “no.” You need to be your own advocate.
QUESTION: I think women inherently don’t want to toot their own horn. Whether in dentistry or business, we see women not put
themselves up for a promotion because they don’t feel 100 percent ready, whereas men feel 20 percent ready, so they’ll put their name in. What can we do in dentistry to drive that?
DR. DEAN-DURU: Just stepping up a little more. I don’t want to bring attention to myself, but sometimes it’s important. You do all the good work that you do, and it’s nice to have a pat on the back. For me, there’s a paradigm shift in that it’s OK to get out there and make people know the things you’re doing. Culturally it’s not how I grew up, but it’s important that we all step out of our comfort zone.
DR. HARTIGAN: Something we’ve done in our practice on a small level is
send out tons of letters. We’re periodontists, and the hygienists and staff send out letters when we do a case that’s absolutely stunning. So we’re kind of tooting our own horn to our referring dentists and to patients. We’re trying to let the patients know, because when you’re doing a root canal, they don’t know what you’re doing; they just know they’re not feeling pain. They don’t know how great you did that canal unless you tell them.
DR. DEAN-DURU: That’s a good idea. We do a lot of aesthetic work for children, and for the most part people just think they’re baby teeth — but those are traumatic years, and you just don’t know how many children are not smiling because of an issue no one may have noticed or addressed.
“My father always said you have to be bank teller before you can be president. Our younger members aim high — they want to start at the top.”
— Dr. Terryl Propper
QUESTION: Advocating for ourselves and for women in dentistry to share everyone’s successes has been a hard road. What do you feel women specifically need to do to become successful in dentistry?
DR. MARANGA: Persevere. Some people are still prejudiced. You know, the old thing where a woman goes to buy a car and it’s X dollars more or the dealer tries to swindle something — same thing here. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s, because people may still want to take advantage.
DR. PROPPER: Earn the respect of your peers. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. What matters is that you’re respected for the work you do. High visibility in the dental community has promoted my reputation, my practice and my success. Being active, ethical and innovative has continued to bring me opportunities. We don’t rise to the top because we’re women;
we rise because we have the executive skills to succeed. As a leader, it’s important to identify the worker bees who have the potential to be queen bees.
DR. MARANGA: Terryl’s right: If you can be the mortar and fill the cracks, people recognize that you’re able to stand back but take charge when needed.
DR. PROPPER: My father always said you have to be bank teller before you can be president. I find this particularly applicable now with our younger members.
DR. MARANGA: Exactly. I mean, they really are the future of our industry, and we don’t want to lose them because of their mindset. They think when they come out of the American Student Dental Association that they should be in charge of a committee instead of being on a committee.
DR. HARTIGAN: It’s our fault, though, because in tee-ball, everybody got a trophy. Everybody still wants the trophy.
DR. MARANGA: They’re insisting on not wanting to wait. They want to go quickly to leadership. There are certain things they want now, and if they don’t have it now they’ll find an alternative. They’ll find better group practices to join. They’ll find different practice models that will suit them, and they’ll be surrounded by people like themselves. Then where are all of us? Not able to have somebody buy our practice.
“Know what you want, learn as much as you can and be ready to make decisions. Be patient.”
—Dr. Lynda Dean-Duru
QUESTION: What advice would you give a dental student, whether she’s ready to graduate or just starting her fourth year, based on what you’ve learned and where you know dentistry is going?
DR. HARTIGAN: I have a daughter who’s a junior in dental school. I tell her to learn to make decisions while she’s in school — confirm them with faculty, but try to come to conclusions based on her knowledge. Because once she gets out she’ll have to make these decisions on her own.
DR. DEAN-DURU: I have a daughter finishing pediatric dentistry. Everybody said she’ll join the practice, but I think she needs to work somewhere else first. So my advice would be know what you want, learn as much as you can and be ready to make decisions. Be patient. It’s a lot of give and take.
QUESTION: How would you like to see The Lucy Hobbs Project continue to drive home the message of the three pillars?
DR. DEAN-DURU: There’s nothing wrong with running a business and being profitable; we all hope to do that. So maintain your integrity. It’s important that women remember that the relationships we create with our patients make the biggest difference. Do the right thing, and the profit part will come.
DR. MARANGA: That brings up a great point about ethics, doing everything the right way. The clientele of the dental schools and clinics is the working poor. And the schools must have the same respect for those individuals as for someone who was paying them tons of money for the same procedure.
DR. HARTIGAN: I agree — I teach too, and I try to emphasize to students that they are professionals. More is expected of them. Patients are not there for our convenience.
QUESTION: Final thoughts: Based on what drives you in your career, what can The Lucy Hobbs Project promote along with what you’ve been doing individually?
DR. HARTIGAN: One of the wonderful things you’re doing is making people aware of Lucy Hobbs, whom I had never heard of. I love that you’re honoring hygienists, too, and that I can bring staff, hygienists and our office people to Lucy Hobbs events, because this is something they don’t get a lot of.
DR. DEAN-DURU: Spreading that awareness: that the only reason Hobbs survived was because she was persistent. All of us need to be persistent and give it our best. That’s the only thing that will set us apart.