The power of women in dentistry

April 1, 2004
Approximately 34 percent of all new active private practitioners are female. The overwhelming majority of auxiliaries on a dental team are women. ADA surveys indicate that 55.5 percent of dental patients are female.

Cathy Jameson, PhD

Approximately 34 percent of all new active private practitioners are female. The overwhelming majority of auxiliaries on a dental team are women. ADA surveys indicate that 55.5 percent of dental patients are female. Other estimates indicate 85 percent of consumer dental decisions are made by women.

Do women hold a level of power in today's dental practice? Need I ask?

My own personal interviews of women in dentistry provide valuable information about how women wish to be treated in a dental practice. They do have special wants and needs, and it benefits a practice to be aware of those concerns to provide effective leadership, excellent customer service, and to obtain and maintain success.

Here, in order of preference, are the stated priorities about how women wish to be treated in the dental practice:

1) Equality: Women wish to work in an environment where gender differences do not deter developmental progress, opportunity, or advancement. It also is important that there be no "stereotypes or assumptions" that place a male counterpart ahead of a female in terms of ability, capability, or willingness to be successful.

2) Respect: Doctors, team members, and patients want to be respected. Female doctors wish to be respected by other doctors, including male doctors. They want to be valued for their opinions, and consulted for their education and experience. They cannot be "one of the girls" with the team members. Female doctors need and want to maintain congenial relationships, but they also want respect for their position. Leadership, skill, and development are critical for the female dentist; however, there are some special challenges. Establishing a role of respected authority takes great effort, skill development, and intention.

Female team members flourish in an environment where they, too, are respected for their talent, experience, ability, and potential. In a workplace where people are encouraged to grow and where they are trusted with new and uplifting responsibilities, female (as well as male) employees will thrive, stay, and, ultimately be productive. Feeling undermined, disrespected, and/or "lesser than" does nothing for either the employee or the employer. Words and actions delivered with care and professionalism are mandatory for a healthy work environment. In addition, take care to avoid any actions that could be construed as sexual harassment.

Female patients become a critical part of the productivity of the practice. It behooves each practice to realize and respect the desires of the female patient. Considering the above statistics, most of the money that changes hands from the consumer to the dentist is based on a woman's perceived value of the service being rendered. A woman wants to be acknowledged for her ability and authority to make decisions for herself and for her family.

Do not patronize your female patients! Spend quality time educating them about their own needs and the needs of their family members (where this is acceptable and desired). Explain fully and completely your treatment recommendations, as well as the patient's financial responsibility. Women do have the power to make their own decisions and will leave you if treated otherwise.

3) Treated as others would wish to be treated: The "golden rule" is always relevant. Think through all that you do and determine if you would feel good being treated exactly the same way. You must align the systems of your practice so that time, attention, and care can be given to every patient at each encounter. Being too busy to pay attention to people can be detrimental to your relationships with patients.

Whether male or female, each one of us wants to be treated equally, with respect, and "as others would wish to be treated." A practice that commits to these valuable measurements of "people professionalism" will establish a reputation of care and will draw people to it.

Do women hold a level of power in today's dental practice? Need I ask?

Dr. Cathy Jameson is president and CEO of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental practice-management consulting, lecturing, seminar, and product provider. An accomplished speaker, writer, and workshop leader, Cathy earned a doctorate in organizational psychology, focusing her studies on effective stress-controlled management. Cathy's books, Great Communication = Great Production and Collect What You Produce are top sellers for PennWell Books. You may reach her toll-free at (877) 369-5558, email her at [email protected], or visit her Web site at

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