For Immediate Release
Date: Apr 13th, 2009
Contact: Dr. Beverly Largent
Breaking GlassLouisville, KY (April 13, 2009) In the years Kermit the Frog had his own TV Show, the Muppets, he introduced a segment called “Pigs in Space” as only Kermit could with his raspy voice, and a big emphasis on the word spaaaace. About that time I entered dental school, and women in dentistry had been as common as pigs in space. I would like to share with you thoughts on my journey in space, uh, make that professional dentistry.
In May 2009 I will complete my term as President of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. This is certainly a high point in my career. I hesitate to say the highest point, because I do not see myself retiring from organized dentistry, and while I have no goals, I am open to whatever the future holds. As I have traveled throughout the United States many men and women alike have questioned my stamina and dedication, saying they could not do the job. I don’t believe that statement. Many of us do not possess that combination of personality traits (ego), total focus and dedication that is required, but I believe that most of us have the dedication to the profession to take on some part of organized dentistry that makes ours a better profession. Often the focus has been on my gender, since I am the first female to hold the position of AAPD President. I believe that I am in the right place at the right time. If that statement does not make sense, then I recommend Malcom Gladwell’s latest book the “Outliers”. Gladwell makes a case for being in the right place at the right time. Even in the right place, I have often felt out of place.
One of the most poignant memories I have involves a meeting of the Kentucky Dental Association. A young male colleague rose to speak at an annual meeting. I was impressed by his inability to speak in a public forum, and the positive support, or mentoring he received from the older dentists. I was deeply saddened, and infuriated. No one noticed MY potential, but made a big show of his talents, which were not quite so visible to me. This resulted in an “I’ll show them” attitude, and made me much more observant, and a better student of politics. I have learned two valuable lessons from that encounter. The first lesson is that there is a lot of room at the top, and whatever our talents or contributions, one is not usually better that the other, but complimentary. The other lesson is that there is not a lot of mentorship for women. This is not contrived, but it is complicated. I am not professionally qualified to delve into the specifics of the phenomenon, but I do have a few thoughts. First, there are not a lot of women in leadership roles. There is virtually no one near to have that one on one conversation with, to offer guidance, and tricks of the trade. Somehow those conversations with men are taboo, with the exception of a very few. There are many subtle messages as well. Men wear uniforms. A bright red tie is about as risqué as it gets. What’s a girl to do? The clothing choice seems to be either vulgar or fuddy duddy grandmother. I have learned—the hard way—that business casual does not fit into my wardrobe. The world of organized dentistry is changing, and perhaps my next role will be a part of that change.
I have endured many questions about sacrifices that I have made to have this position. One person’s sacrifice is another person’s opportunity. I treasure the friendships I have made. I can count genuine friends, both male and female, throughout the United States, who have enriched my life. I cannot imagine a time without them. I know folks who inspire me in ways I could have never imagined before becoming involved in organized dentistry. Some of these people are exceptionally bright, and I am in awe of their knowledge and capabilities, and their willingness to share their talents for me and so many others. Others are incredibly imaginative, and use their talents for the betterment of society. I could name these people, but many of the names would not be recognizable, and that is the beauty of what I see. I find extraordinary people, working in ordinary ways for extraordinary results. Perhaps some of the best of the people I have met in my travels are those who prop me up, those in Academy and Association offices who give love and respect. I don’t think that is in their job description.
It has been a pleasure and an overwhelming responsibility to speak for dentistry, and in particular pediatric dentistry. I “sacrificed” a wedding rehearsal dinner party for a niece, in exchange for a five minute speech at the American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Meeting. Of course I was not the main presenter, but a welcoming speaker. If one is exceedingly lucky, spoken words sometimes resonate with the audience. I felt lucky that day. I have also “sacrificed” some valuable sleep time to address a multidisciplinary meeting on oral health care, and many child welfare groups. One of my favorite ways to pat myself on my back is to read the technical assistance brief I authored for family court judges in the United States. This brief outlined appropriate oral health care for children in foster care. Again, this opportunity came about because I was the person in the right place at the right time. I am also very proud of the work of many of my Pediatric Dental colleagues who have dreamed of a dental home for all children in Head Start Programs, and those who are making it a reality.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has signed a 5 year, $10,000,000 contract with the Federal Offices of Head Start to provide dental homes for the 9,000,000 children in Head Start Programs. The AAPD has named all regional directors, and for the first time they are all dentists. State directors have been named, and the six initial states have begun the program. Another twelve will kick off their programs this spring. This is a show of the volunteer spirit at its best. None of the money awarded the AAPD will be used for direct care, but for implementing the program. General dentists as well as pediatric dentists have volunteered to be directors, both in the state and region. These people make my contributions pale. Hundreds of dentists have signed up on the Medicaid rolls as providers so that they can be included in the program. Corporate sponsors have provided written materials for the Head Start Families. This is a monumental undertaking for dentistry, and as success continues, should be an excellent example of how we in the profession care for the underserved. I can only imagine the outcome, and how the outpouring of efforts from dentists can be used to strengthen our position as caring health care providers, the leaders in the oral health care team.
This past year has amplified my belief that dentists are collectively the best humans in the world. However you choose--let your light shine!