Diversity + Outreach

Contour Extended: Hidden Figures in dentistry

Welcome to Contour Extended! We’ll feature additional content related to recently published Contour articles. See the article about women in dentistry in January’s Contour here.

Dear Hidden Figures,

Perhaps you have seen the new motion picture that describes the life of Katherine Johnson, an African-American math prodigy who grew up in White Sulfur Springs, W. Va. She grew up counting numbers and manually computing equations. In 1953, she began working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), later known at NASA. She joined hundreds of other women as a human computer. Pre-dating Apple or Microsoft, these women helped to win the race to space. As a math computer, she completed calculations for Alan Shepard, John Glenn, the Apollo moon landing mission and the start of the space shuttle program.

In meetings, she was known to ask “why?” instead of simply calculating for an answer. This was something most women, especially an African-American woman, would not think of doing at that time in history. But Katherine wanted to do more than compute. More than anything, she wanted to learn. Her passion to learn and push beyond the status quo changed the trajectory of the United States’ space quest. Although the title of the movie suggests that Katherine Johnson was hidden in the background of the space program, she proved she was not.

As a woman in dentistry, neither are you! Have you taken a look at the statistics for women in dentistry lately? You will probably notice that there are more women dentists than ever. In fact, now almost 50% of U.S. dental school graduates are female. In clinical practice, the market of women dentists in the U.S. has risen from 11% in 1993 to 27% in 2014.

Although we are graduating thousands of female dentists each year, the statistics show that older trends persist. Women are still dramatically underrepresented among ADA officers and board members. The ADA reports surprisingly few female members of their House of Delegates, U.S. dental school deans and state dental society presidents. Beyond dentistry, only about 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

Just like Katherine Johnson, we have an opportunity to change the trajectory of dentistry. Women are capable of launching ideas, policies and change in a new direction. Personally, I have found myself in an interesting orbit in dentistry. Since graduation, I have joined forces with igniteDDS, a new dentist community forum, and become a contributing editor for Dental Entrepreneur Woman Magazine (DeW Life). This publication fuels my passion, just as counting and calculations fueled Katherine Johnson’s.  DeW Life is writing to serve and empower women to contribute to the field of dentistry. We want to bring recognition to female dentists and increase the number of women in leadership positions in dentistry.

If you think that your involvement in dentistry ends when you graduate, you are mistaken. Your involvement is just beginning:  you can write, blog, speak, serve, give back, join forces and most importantly, lead. It doesn’t have to stop with organized dentistry. There are opportunities to be involved in companies, publications, universities, study clubs and online communities. If you don’t know where to start, ask another female leader. Ask “How can I learn more? How can I shine? How can I lead in dentistry?”

We need more women leaders. You will find that every woman has a unique story that can inspire you or a piece of advice you can share with your female classmates. Instead of being hidden figures, join us in influencing the course of dentistry.

~ Dr. Erinne Kennedy, Nova Southeastern ’15

Erinne Kennedy

Dr. Erinne Kennedy is an Ohio State University graduate and comes from Middleport, Ohio. She graduated from the Nova Southeastern University’s College of Dental Medicine in 2015. Dr. Kennedy loved everything about dental school, especially being involved in organized dentistry. While in dental school, she was involved with ASDA as a local vice president and national contributing editor. After dental school, Erinne attended a one-year general practice residency at the VA Hospital in Baltimore, MD. Erinne has a passion for giving back and is currently working toward a dental public health specialty at Harvard University in Boston, MA. Her love for writing and communicating continued after dental school when she became a blogger for igniteDDS and alumna writer for ASDA. Currently she serves as a contributing editor for Dental Product Review and is on the junior editorial board for DeW.

In her free time, Dr. Kennedy enjoys exercise in all forms: yoga, weight lifting, group exercise classes and running. Dr. Kennedy‘s professional affiliations include: The American Dental Association, The Massachusetts Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry.

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  1. What an inspiring article from Erinne Kennedy! Much has been accomplished by women in dentistry and there is much to dew! Erinne shows us that leading by example is the best way to move forward. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for sharing!

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