A womans touch or a cat fight?

Sept. 1, 1999
In the July 1998 issue, RDH published an article I wrote ("Working for Her") on the subject of working with a female dentist. I examined several gender differences, such as emotionalism, child care concerns, handling sexism from patients, and relating with staff.

Several readers share their experiences of working with a woman dentist.

Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS

In the July 1998 issue, RDH published an article I wrote ("Working for Her") on the subject of working with a female dentist. I examined several gender differences, such as emotionalism, child care concerns, handling sexism from patients, and relating with staff.

In addition, I invited readers to share their experiences, either negative or positive. What follows is a digest of those responses.

"I worked with a male dentist for 12 years, and I now work for a female dentist. My experiences have been completely positive. The patients love and trust her judgment without question. She is gentle, and they believe she will not hurt them. We also refer to other female specialists, feeling that our patients may have come to us because she is female. I am not aware of any condescending attitudes from patients. If anything, I feel more respect.

"As far as being her employee goes, I feel completely at ease with her. I guess that feeling of the `playing field being even` applies here. I feel like `one of the girls` at work and I like it, instead of part of a `harem` with a male doctor.

"I can`t imagine that working for a female dentist could be a bad experience for anyone." - from Georgia

"Our young female dentist was good-looking, independent, and self-centered. We seemed to work fine together until I got pregnant with my daughter. While I was out on maternity leave, many patients asked about me. Basically, the young dentist got very jealous. I came back after two months off and had nothing but a hard time with her. She would argue that I was not helping her with patients or that I was not doing my own job correctly. She would find every way to make me uncomfortable, and she complained about me to the senior dentist, who subsequently called me into his office and said I needed to change my ways. I tried to explain that I felt there were personality conflicts, but I would try to amend the situation. However, within a month, I found myself fired with the explanation that the female doctor could not work with me.

"Jealousy in women is a major conflict in small practices. In my case, it was the cause of a lost position. I would now hesitate to work in a situation again with a female dentist. I gave my all and lost to a female who made the `playing field` World War III!" - from Michigan

"I have been working with a female pediatric dentist for several years and find her to be one of the most compassionate and caring people I know. She loves her patients, whether rich or poor, and treats them all like they are the most important people in the world. I have worked with other dentists (who are male) who care more about the `business` aspects of the practice and definitely treat certain patients differently according to their profession, where they live, etc. I find this really annoying.

"Our female doctor`s compassion carries over to the way she treats the staff. I definitely think women make excellent dentists." - from a hygienist in a pediatric practice

"I agreed to take a position with a female dentist who was my friend. Dealing with her on a daily basis, I witnessed another personality evolve before me. Not only were we, the staff, subservient to her short temper, but also to her frustrating PMS episodes.

"My employment with my friend, the female dentist, lasted (endured) long enough for a complete rotation of her staff.

"Upon terminating my employment as her dental hygienist, the admiration and trustful respect I once felt for her as my friend were left behind." - from Florida

"Another angle I just heard from a patient last week: At the age of 11, she was sexually abused by her dentist while in the chair. Took her 40 years to go back, and then only to a female dentist. She`s smiling again!" - from a dentist in Minnesota

"Two years ago, I went to work two days a week for a female dentist. The first two months were great. Being a member of an all-female staff was a blast, compared to my previous job where I had worked for three male dentists in one practice. The female dentist insisted everyone call her by her first name, and that included patients and staff. I think that broke down the first step of respect for her. It was not unusual for the radio to be up very loud and for her to be yelling across the open area where all four operatories were. She wouldn`t be mad - she would be socializing. I got some very strange looks from patients, especially new ones who were not used to such noise in a dental office. The dentist and her office manager were very good friends and did things outside the office quite often. The other staff members and I did not approve of this friendship. They eventually had a falling out with each other, and the dentist fired her for no particular reason.

"This dentist has a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality. She has very low self-esteem. We thought if we had to hear one more time that she graduated third in her dental school class, we would scream. She told patients that every day!

"I finally quit after she called me into her office one day after we were through working. She pointed to a stack of charts on her desk and told me they were all undiagnosed periodontal disease that I had missed from the week before. She went on to tell me that I needed some continuing education in scaling. Next, she began pulling out brochures from her dental school so I could call them and find out when the next class would be. It didn`t matter that her dental school was 31/2 hours from my home. At this time, I had seven years of cleaning teeth under my belt and had never had any previous dentist complain about my work. I went home that day and wrote my letter of resignation.

"I, for one, will never work for a female dentist again. Maybe it`s not fair to think that all of them are alike, but my one experience was enough for me!" - from a hygienist in the East

"I have worked for a female dentist for three years. I can definitely say it has truly been a wonderful experience, and I hope to retire with my boss. Upon being hired, I found out weeks later that I was pregnant with my first child. I wasn`t quite sure how to tell my boss since I had just been hired, but I broke the news. My boss was excited and congratulated me. A few months later, a chairside assistant announced she also was pregnant. Oh boy! Two out of the four of us working together were pregnant!

"The doctor came up with a great idea to convert our kitchen area into a nursery and hire a nanny to watch the kids while we worked. This enabled us to come back to work full time and also spend time with our children. Needless to say, it worked out great for one year until the kids started walking. Then we made alternate arrangements.

"The patients loved seeing the children when they came in for their appointments. Our doctor is a mother of one and is very understanding when it comes to balancing a home life and a work life. I am very grateful that I am working for her and enjoy going to work each day." - from Florida

"I was disappointed that your article about female dentists did not emphasize very strongly that gender differences are, for the most part, socially and culturally contrived. Differences in strength and height are genuine differences. Hormonal influences are also different. However, I am really disgusted with women using hormones as an excuse for being bad-tempered, whiny, and over-emotional. How are women ever going to achieve respect and equality with men, or with other women, if PMS, menopause, or pregnancy are our excuses for our failings?

"I have worked with three women dentists. One is an absolute gem, one is so-so, and my current female employer is the pits. Gender has been an issue only in the case of my current employer who blatantly manipulates sexual stereotypes in her constant efforts to get the upper hand." - from a hygienist with a different slant

"I temped for a female doctor and found her to be very demanding and abrasive. The other girls walked around her as if we were walking on egg shells. I felt the best thing was to stay out of her way!

"She was very picky and anal about her paperwork. Don`t get me wrong. I can appreciate a neat freak and an organized person (as I am one myself), but she drives the staff crazy." - from Florida

"I have hired female dentists and found that their biggest obstacle was acceptance by the dental assistant staff. The same chauvinistic attitudes displayed by some older patients were reflected by the dental assistants. My impression was that this was mostly due to jealousy from the dental assistants. The female dentists had to show even more self-confidence and self-assurance than their male counterparts to be assumed competent practitioners by the auxiliary staff. I find it hard to get the staff to accept the notion that good dentists come in all forms." - from a practice manager

From all these comments, we have a nice cross-section of opinions about female dentists. I want to thank everyone who took the time to respond. When choosing an employer, it is best not to consider superficial stereotypes. Good bosses can come in all shapes, colors, and, yes, either gender!

Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS, holds a bachelor`s degree in human resource management and is a practice-management consultant, writer, and speaker.