Op-ed

Women’s Equality Day and progress in dentistry

One hundred years ago, the 19th Amendment was adopted. Women were finally given the right to vote, which was a centerpiece of the first women’s rights movement. Today, this milestone is commemorated as Women’s Equality Day, celebrated every year on Aug. 26 since 1971. Albeit difficult, women have risen to achievements beyond our wildest dreams. We’ve reached for the stars, literally, making an impact in all industries and professions, from engineering, science and technology, publishing, health care and so much more.

For me, dentistry provides a career that allows me to make an impact by fostering meaningful relationships with my patients, thus improving their health, and many women are choosing this field with the same mindset. According to the ADA Health Policy Institute, in 2018, nearly 50% of dental school graduates were women; this number was a mere 11% in 1978. When asked why she chose dentistry, Brianne Schmiegelow (Missouri-Kansas City ’21) stated, “I wanted the freedom to spend time with my family and friends and to have a life outside of my career, while still being able to make a lasting impact on my community through my work.” 

While so many women have paved the way for us and made great strides in dentistry, such as Lucy Hobbs Taylor, Ida Gray, M. Evangeline Jordon and so many others, there are still times when we encounter people who challenge or doubt our abilities. On her external rotation, Taylor Little (Missouri-Kirksville ’21) experienced a patient who left the office because she was not a male provider. While most reactions are usually not this strong, Little says she recognizes she may be the first female provider some patients have ever had. To her, this presents a unique opportunity to bond with the patient and showcase her skills. For a fellow classmate of mine, she shared the experience of having interviewers ask her questions about family style and time commitment — all based on her gender. Sometimes it feels as if women can be shamed for desiring a powerful career or that some of society assumes we all want to be wives and mothers and do not think we could have time for both if we do. Progress is progress, but it has been slow, and while this can be discouraging, we can remember our advocates and support systems.

When asked what Women’s Equality Day means to him, Dr. Dylan Weber (Missouri-Kansas City ’20) stated that it’s the “recognition and celebration of the unique and innate power of all women. As a male dentist, I strive to contribute to a practice environment where my co-doc and mentor receives the same level of respect I do for merely being born male. This carries to the collective of our all-women staff who have been incredible in my introduction to dentistry in private practice.”

Women’s Equality Day means a lot of different things to a lot of people. For some, it’s a celebration of how far we’ve come; it is a remembrance of those who have paved the way to create these vast opportunities we sometimes take for granted. For others, it’s a reminder of how far we still have to go. The world isn’t perfect — and it won’t ever be — but we can take this time to remember those who came before us and to continue to push for equality, justice and peace.

~Alyssa Kieschnick, Missouri-Kansas City ’21, District 8 Wellness Chair

Alyssa Kieschnick

Alyssa Kieschnick is a 2016 graduate of the University of Missouri. She loves how quickly she has learned all that she has in dental school and loves her faculty and fellow classmates. When she isn’t busy with dental school, she spends her free time running, hiking, biking, reading and having movie nights with her cat.

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