How did Dr. Lois Jackson, president of the New York County Dental Society, help pilot her peers through the pandemic upon her sudden ascent to the job? In part, by remembering all those who had come before. Now she’s looking ahead with an all-female executive committee by her side.
IN EARLY SPRING of 2020, while still grieving the death of Dr. Luis Fujimoto, the president of the New York County Dental Society, Manhattan dentists suddenly came face to face with a global pandemic that would soon wreak utter havoc throughout their city and borough. Fortunately, next in the line of succession was a mentor, an advocate and a leader always calm in a crisis: pediatric dentist Dr. Lois Jackson.
“We had a lot of people who were very distressed, so we had to provide them with as much information as we could,” says Dr. Jackson, the founding partner of Pediatric Dentists NYC and now president of the NYCDS. That’s apropos: Founded in 1860, the society has always worked to support its members in need. Upon Dr. Fujimoto’s death, “as president-elect, I became acting president for all of 2020, when the organization did a lot of
work for members in terms of giving them the information they needed about supplies and [Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster] loans. We provided webinars, responded to emails, answered phone calls.”
The NYCDS made progress of a much happier sort this February 25, when Dr. Jackson’s all-female executive committee took office: Dr. Ioanna G. Mentzelopoulou is the organization’s president-elect; Dr. Mina C. Kim, its vice president; Dr. Suchie Chawla, its secretary; and Dr. Vera W.L. Tang, its treasurer.
That’s emblematic, in its own way, of the arc of Dr. Jackson’s career. “In the 1980s, when I was starting out, women in dentistry—there weren’t that many of us, so we all knew each other,” she says. Some of them started a study club that met at Manhattan’s First Women’s Bank, a now-defunct institution that sought to extend credit and other financial services to underserved businesswomen.
I was never deterred by anything. It was just a question of finding a way.”
Dr. Jackson—who wryly notes that she “moved to Brooklyn before it was cool”—is active in numerous facets of New York dentistry and civic life. She serves on the boards of Camp Brooklyn, which sends needy children to sleepaway camps, and the Flatbush Development Corporation, which helps finance after-school and summer programs for local youth. She’s also on the board of advisors at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, her alma mater.
Triumphing as a woman in dentistry has required two things above all, she observes: professionalism and competence. “People expected you to be the hygienist or the assistant,” she recalls, “and when they saw you were the dentist, you really had to show you were proficient. Once you did that, people were happy to see you.”
Her work in private practice and deftly helping guide the NYCDS through the worst of the pandemic—and, one hopes, the sunnier days that lie ahead—has cemented her status. “Being a woman who is a dentist is no longer unusual,” she says. “There are so many who came before who can be involved with mentoring. It’s a different world now.
“I was never deterred by anything,” she continues, philosophically. “It was just a question of finding a way.”