U-M Symposium Focuses on Women in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery7 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
Ann Arbor, Mich., March 15, 2019 -– A national initiative to encourage more women to become oral and maxillofacial surgeons brought speakers and participants from around the country to a symposium at the University of Michigan last week.
The second annual Women in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Symposium was sponsored by the U-M Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMS) and the U-M School of Dentistry. The two-day event drew about 150 people to explore the opportunities and challenges of an evolving but still male-dominated profession. Lead organizer Dr. Justine Moe, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the U-M OMS/Hospital Dentistry department, invited speakers who addressed leadership, mentoring, work-life balance, developing a career in science, conflict management, negotiating contracts, and dealing with implicit bias and discrimination, among other topics.
Gender inequity is common in most surgical specialties, but it is especially pronounced in OMS. About 19 percent of U.S. surgeons are women and only about 8 percent of the active members of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) are women. The inaugural symposium last year was led by University of Michigan residents Kelly Sayre, Karen Carver and Sara Anderson under the direction of Dr. Brent Ward, chair of the dental school’s OMFS/Hospital Dentistry department, who identified the gender gap as one of his priorities two years ago when the department celebrated its 100th anniversary and looked ahead to the next century. Ward, who is also section head of OMS within the Surgery Department at Michigan Medicine, envisioned a broader and more robust national conversation on the issue. The topic has resonated in the profession: This year’s symposium drew more than twice the attendance of the initial event last year.
“We made history with this symposium because it brought together the most people — both women and men — to date to celebrate women in OMS,” Moe said. She noted that attendees came from throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Pakistan. They ranged from practicing OMS surgeons to dental students considering the field, including private practice dentists, academic faculty dentists, private practice oral surgeons, academic faculty oral surgeons, faculty in medicine, oral surgery residents and fellows, dental residents and staff. About one-third of those in attendance were dental students. “Many dental students attended because they are interested in oral surgery but don’t have any role models or mentors in oral surgery,” Moe said.
In the U-M residency program, the number of role models is increasing. Three new residents join the six-year OMS residency each year, so there are 18 in the program at any one time. The three women in the program currently — Sara Anderson, Karen Carver and Kelly Sayre — are the most ever at one time. And the number will increase to four when Catherine Haviland, one of three new residents, joins the program this summer.
Those sorts of small steps forward were applauded at last week’s conference, where one particularly effective session was a series of “fireside chats” led by residents of OMS programs across the country. The small group discussions allowed for a more individualized approach to important issues such as burnout, personal experiences with gender bias and finding mentors and sponsors. A session on conflict management styles and strategies was led by Dr. Felicia Tucker-Lively of the Academy for Academic Leadership in Atlanta, Ga.
Dr. Stephanie Drew, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, gave the keynote address, “Women in OMS: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going.” She said it’s important for women in the field to remember their history. “What we are today as oral surgeons and residents is often taken for granted on so many levels,” she said. Her presentation traced the history of women in oral surgery, starting with Dr. Lucy Hobbs Taylor, who was the first woman to earn a doctorate in dental surgery in 1866. Another pioneer in the field was Elaine Stuebner, who completed dental school and oral surgery training in 1958. Stuebner became the first woman certified as a diplomate to the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS).
Drew said Stuebner, who died in 2007, worked to bring other women into the field, which was not an easy task. She noted that even during much of Stuebner’s career, school counselors didn’t mention dentistry as a career option for girls. It was 35 years before another female oral surgeon joined the profession. “When you talked to Dr. Stuebner, she would tell you that this trail was not easy, and it was always a challenge for her because she was truly the unicorn, the only woman in the room for so many years,” Drew said.
Despite these and other challenges, women have come a long way in the profession, Drew said. She highlighted the achievements of several women in the field today, including Dr. Mary Delsol, who became the first woman president of the ABOMS, and Dr. Felice O’Ryan, who was one of the first women to serve as an examiner for the board.
Going forward, Drew encouraged symposium attendees to find their area of expertise and become the go-to person for that area. She stressed the importance of volunteering, particularly for committees, where women can influence developments in the profession, and of mentoring and supporting each other. “Show up. Get involved,” she said. “Above all else, be the heroine of your life. Don’t be the victim.”
Moe credits Drew with dedicating her career to advancing women in OMS. Drew is currently president of the American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (ACOMS) and is the first woman to lead the organization. She is the founding chair of the Elaine Stuebner Scholarship for Women through ACOMS, and is also chair of the AAOMS Special Interest Group for Women in OMS.
Tara Aghaloo, professor of OMS at the UCLA School of Dentistry, attended the symposium last year as a speaker and said she came back because she continues to be concerned about the low percentage of women in the field. “It’s important to get women involved early,” she said, noting that during the symposium she made connections with women she hopes to mentor moving forward. She said the symposium contained helpful information about negotiation, pay differences and perceptions.
Urie Lee, who will be entering the OMS program at the University of Southern California this summer, took inspiration from the sessions. “All of us have had experiences in surgery or oral surgery where we felt discriminated against. We feel very empowered to see these women in leadership positions,” Lee said. She also gleaned helpful information about negotiating, particularly about topics such as maternity leave. “It brings light onto things a lot of us never really thought about,” she said.
That was one of the intents of continuing the symposium this year, Moe said. “We are creating a network through which women in OMS will continue to stay connected, to develop relationships key to mentorship and sponsorship, and to continue to discuss important topics,” she said. “It is easy to feel isolated as a woman in a male-dominated field. This meeting was meaningful and empowering to so many women in OMS who are inspired and motivated to pursue their passion in OMS despite the challenges. We plan to continue building on the success of these first two conferences.”
The symposium was supported by several corporate partners, including KLS Martin, Stryker, Nobel Biocare, TMJ Concepts, Cinzara and NeoBiocare.
The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu. Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (734) 615-1971.