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Flexibility A survey examining the contribution of women dentists to the workforce (carried out by JJ Murray and printed in the BDJ in 2002) reported that the introduction of part-time and flexible training opportunities enabled women to pursue the same goals as male colleagues, but the research confirmed that there were still few women reaching senior positions. Some of the survey’s respondents remarked that for women dentists


there was little flexibility in university clinical posts and career pathways, which remain based on traditional male working patterns. The survey noted: “The training pathways and the necessity for


substantial research and postgraduate qualifications to reach the highest posts were considered obstacles when combined with raising a family.” Perhaps some of the prejudices we have seen historically from Lilian Lindsay’s days continue to persist? JJ Murray’s survey of 4,500 women dentists also revealed almost half of


them work full-time and half part-time, with the main reason for part-time work being caring for children. A 2006 study in the BDJ called The feminisation of the orthodontic workforce found female dentists took more career breaks than men with breaks lasting an average of nine months compared to men’s four month breaks. As a result, women dentists who take a career break can be expected to have a working life 25 per cent shorter than a dental practitioner who does not take a career break. There have been many high profile comments on the “feminisation” issue in medicine. Critics have raised concerns over the impact of large- scale part-time working which they say will require greater investment in training. Other more positive comments have come from the likes of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges who believe the NHS should view the changing nature of the medical workforce as an opportunity rather than a threat, adding that “opportunities for flexible working are increasingly sought by and benefit both male and female doctors.” At some point, I will likely consider taking time out of my career to


have children, and thus be a part of these statistics. Changes including the planned new UK laws for shared parental leave and pay may level out some of the potential imbalance but more will no doubt have to be done. There are also knock-on effects in financial terms for future dentists.


The BDA estimates that dental students who have begun their courses in 2013/14 can expect to face debts as high as £60,000 at the end of their studies. How will this affect these future graduates, considering half of them are likely to be working part time? Will women struggle to re-coup the financial investment they have made in building up their skills? The reasons why more women are entering dentistry aren’t clear but the so-called feminisation of the workforce shows no signs of slowing down. It seems the profession will have to get used to seeing a greater number of “young lady” dentists in future.


Sources: • BDJ, Women and the world of dentistry: tinyurl.com/nlqbjug • BDJ, A study of the career development of male and female dental practitioners: tinyurl.com/oqzk7sn


• BDJ, A review of the contribution of women dentists to the workforce, JJ Murray: tinyurl.com/o3jaa5b


Sameera Teli is a dentist and editor of SoundBite


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