From ‘forgotten womanhood’ to female empowerment: One woman’s pioneering spirit paved the way for women in dentistry
Lucy Hobbs Taylor was the definition of a trailblazer. In 1859, the 26-year-old planned to enroll in medical school. However, after being denied admission on the basis of her gender, she pursued dental school. It took another few years before she was finally admitted to the Ohio College of Dental Surgery, and became the first woman in the world to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1866.
Dr. Hobbs Taylor withstood the shock and awe surrounding her ambition, including accusations of “forgotten womanhood,” as she created a career for herself in dentistry. More than 150 years later, graduating dental classes are nearly 50 percent female and the legacy of Dr. Hobbs Taylor lives on through a namesake award that spotlights talented, inspiring female dentists. Drs. Patricia Blanton, Emily Ishkanian, Andrea Joy Smith and Irene Marron-Tarrazi are four recipients of the Lucy Hobbs Project awards, and we caught up with them to discuss their views on dentistry today and more.
New Dentist Now: What is it like to be a woman in dentistry today? Is it what you expected?
Dr. Emily Ishkanian (recipient of the Mentor Award): Having two great grandfathers who were dentists makes me proud to follow in their footsteps nearly 100 years after a time when women in dentistry were nonexistent. Each day as a dentist is unique: the patients, procedures, stress and sense of accomplishment. Most importantly, I love the opportunities to change someone’s life. Dentistry’s rewards outweigh its challenges.
Dr. Andrea Joy Smith (recipient of the Clinical Expertise Award): I feel very well received by patients and colleagues alike. Patients express an appreciation for the compassion and empathy shown from a women’s perspective. Caring for people is truly my passion but I did not expect my profession, dentistry, to completely fulfill and fuel my passion even more, but it certainly has.
Dr. Patricia Blanton (recipient of the Industry Icon Award): From my perspective, it is the best it has ever been. More and more women have entered the profession and dispelled the “myths” that had precluded our entry into the health professions for entirely too long. Women live complex lives and society demands a great deal from them and yet, despite all of the obstacles, they consistently deliver on the promise of “possibility” in contemporary health care. I cannot help but be pleased with how far we have come and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge how much further we have to go. Until we have a sufficient number of women in leadership roles we will continue to have a “pipeline” problem in fully developing subsequent generations of women leaders.
Dr. Irene Marron-Tarrazi (recipient of the Woman to Watch Award): I first went to dental school in Venezuela, where women comprised 90 percent of the student body. That was the norm until I came to the U.S. to continue my training. Here, we women must come to an understanding that we are a force in dentistry! I hope vendors who wish to stand out continue to make products that have ergonomic components designed for women practitioners. As dental professionals, women are equal to men in every way.
NDN: What advice would you give to women entering the profession?
Dr. Smith: Well, I think this advice could be useful to any new dentist. But I would advise them to never stop learning and keep an open mind. I would also advise them to be strong in all decisions they make, be it patient care, employee direction, pressure from an employer or interactions with colleagues.
Dr. Blanton: Be passionate, be present, be persistent and be prepared. Assume your responsibility to lead and lead fearlessly – the very future of our profession depends on it.
Dr. Marron-Tarrazi: I would tell them to get involved with the profession. The ADA has many online tools that can help dentists get a better grasp on practice management concepts and leadership development. Also, be sure to check out programs like the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, which was designed to help women dentists and other dentists who are traditionally underrepresented in leadership roles.
Dr. Ishkanian: As a woman in dentistry, at times you may be positioned to break barriers and stereotypes. Take those opportunities to show that gender doesn’t define you and that you, as well as the women who will inevitably come after you, have something valuable to offer patients and the profession.
NDN: What hobbies do you enjoy outside of dentistry?
Dr. Blanton: I value traveling and engaging in cultural exchange as a member of the global village. I am spending more time in Eastern Europe and areas that were historically less accessible to western tourism. I think it’s important to get outside your comfort zone and to enhance your cultural IQ.
Dr. Marron-Tarrazi: I like to spend time with my family by doing activities that bring us closer together. Some of my passions are reading, traveling and interior design. At this stage in my life, I really enjoy spending my weekends by being involved with my kids, having date nights with my husband and seeing our friends.
Dr. Ishkanian: I love cooking and baking. Creativity in the kitchen is one way that I relieve stress, and sharing meals builds relationships with family and friends.
Dr. Smith: My hobbies outside of dentistry include cycling, running and exercising. I also enjoy entertaining and spending time with family and friends. Traveling is near the top of the list, too.
NDN: What inspires you?
Dr. Marron-Tarrazi: I’m inspired by strong women who put effort into constantly leaving things better than the way they found them. Women dentists like Carol Summerhays, Maxine Feinberg, Kathleen O’Loughlin, Patricia Blanton, Linda Niessen and countless others. These women have made huge contributions to dentistry. They are teaching us that there are no boundaries. We are changing perceptions.
Dr. Ishkanian: I’m inspired by other strong women who have helped to change the face of women in the workplace and dentistry. These amazing leaders and friends have encouraged me to be bold, give back and ultimately do the right thing even if it’s not always popular.
Dr. Smith: I am inspired by my children to be the best person I can be. However, the dental needs of my patients inspire me to be the best clinician I can be. Particularly, patients with uncommon dental issues inspire me to seek and find treatment options that will fulfill their needs. I hear lots of patient stories in which they say they have been told that there are no treatment options for them. Providing care to these patients and easing their pain brings me great satisfaction.
Dr. Blanton: Random acts of courage by committed leaders who envision a better world and pursue that world with enthusiasm and enduring optimism. Optimism is the faith that binds and nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without enthusiasm and perseverance. I consider these to attributes to be essential virtues.