Only five years in, Dr. Sharel Sly’s professional network, Sistahs in Dentistry, is more than 3,000 black women strong—and still growing.
BACK IN 2017, noticing a void in her chosen profession—there was, she says, “no true space for black women in dentistry to have an outlet”—Dr. Sharel Sly, who owns Hermann Park Smiles in Houston, found a way to centralize black women dentists and share their unique experiences: by founding Sistahs in Dentistry.
It started as a closed Facebook group that invited black women in dentistry—double minorities in their field—to uplift, support, celebrate and network with one another. In just four years, it has grown to more than 3,300 members, including dental students.
“What I noticed was there was very little representation of ‘us’ in the community,” Dr. Sly says. “We knew we were out there but had no way of knowing where. Now, with the advent of the group, there’s a sense of familiarity and friendship. So when attending a conference, members can coordinate and attend together. There have been CE courses and even a national conference that were Sistahs in Dentistry member-only events, which have been amazing.”
The organization has since evolved to encompass the nonprofit Association of Black Women Dentists (abwdentists.org). Dr. Sly has also launched an annual membership component through which participants gain access to negotiated group discounts, CE courses, webinars, investment opportunities and more.
ABWD also has a burgeoning mentorship program. “For many of us who were first-generation doctors, we had no idea what to do,” Dr. Sly says. “It was a lot of bumping our head and making mistakes. For the students, we want to eliminate some of those bumps.”
Dr. Karen Luckett, a Sistahs in Dentistry charter member, practices in McComb, Mississippi. “I’ve been in practice 27 years and out of dental school 30,” she says. “Sometimes I’ve felt isolated, but this group has opened up so many opportunities for me. I had a small community of colleagues I could reach out to, but now I have a whole community that I would not otherwise have connected with.” (Her bottom line has benefited, too; she’s had revenue growth of 25 percent every year since she joined the group.)
Dr. Dana Truesdale has followed a similar trajectory and describes Sistahs in Dentistry as “the missing piece” that unlocked a door to greater success. “My level of thinking is different, because now I have a team of people with similar experiences,” says Dr. Truesdale, who runs Innovation Dental Center in Baltimore. “I’m like a sponge, just soaking up all this new information, applying these things in my practice.”
Just five years in, Sistahs in Dentistry (and the ABWD) has established itself as an anchor organization. “Many people don’t understand what it’s like to be in a room and feel less likely to raise your hand because you’re the ‘minority,’ ” Dr. Sly says. “But when you’re in a room full of your sistahs, there’s a sense of ease and excitement.”