When it comes to women in the dental field, there is plenty to celebrate. Most Canadian dental schools achieved parity about 10 years ago, and today, many incoming classes have more women than men. What’s more, income equality, often a sticking point on the road to gender parity, is also a good news story. As Dr. Joan Eaton, a B.C. dentist of over 30 years explains, “The issue of equal pay doesn’t really apply in dentistry. There is only one fee guide, so your income is entirely within your control.”
But there is a bit more to the story. While female dentists have achieved equality with their male colleagues in many areas, the road to success doesn’t always follow as straight a path. For female dentists – particularly those who want to start and raise a family – goals such as opening a practice and rising to industry leadership positions can take longer to reach.
Case in point, while women are buying their own practices, they tend to do so later than men. “Men typically open a practice approximately five years after graduation,” says Dr. Lynn Tomkins, Vice-President of the Canadian Dental Association. “For women, that timeline is more like 11-12 years.”
And for many new dentists, practice ownership is the ultimate goal. “People go into dentistry because they are driven and independent,” says Dr. Eaton. “Being your own practice owner offers better financial rewards, control over your life and control over your job.”
Given the competing priorities and responsibilities many women face, how can they best achieve their goals of the future? Ultimately, it comes down to understanding the paths available, and carefully planning the route.
Be informed of the options
Dr. Effrat Habsha, founder of Women in Dentistry, encourages young dentists to have clear insight into the options available for them – particularly when starting out and balancing the demands of family and career.
While some may opt to start a practice early in their careers, they could face very brief maternity leaves in order to keep their practice running (Dr. Eaton has covered leaves as short as two weeks). For many women, delaying practice ownership is a more attractive option. “Starting off as an associate and finding the right mentor may be the best way to go,” suggests Dr. Habsha.
In either case, understanding what the options are can help young dentists make informed decisions that work best for their personal and professional lives.
Have a career plan
Dr. Tomkins is on track to become only the second female president of the CDA. At a natural evolutionary rate, it will take a long time to reach parity here. Dr. Tomkins points out that female dentists with specific long-term goals need a plan – and some support to put it into action.
“We need to help young women identify a career path. While they are getting their career and family going, time is very tight and they can’t devote the extra hours early on. We can help women identify their long-term goals – whether it’s starting a practice or becoming president of the ODA – and backtrack from there. We can help them build a step-by-step plan to reach that goal.”
Have a financial plan
One of the tenets of investing for the future is to start young. But for those dentists who delay their prime earning years, how can they begin working towards achieving their personal and professional goals?
The answer is to have a financial plan. As Debbie Okamoto, Senior Investment Planning Advisor with CDSPI explains: “If you are delaying practice ownership – and the financial rewards that come with it – start investing small amounts and build a plan when you’re young. One that outlines your professional and your personal financial goals, whether it’s saving for a practice, saving for retirement, or saving for your children’s education. From there, we can identify the steps that can help you achieve the success you envision for you and your family.”
At CDSPI, we are committed to helping all dentists thrive professionally and financially, offering the guidance to achieve their goals of the future.