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  • They were an inspiration

    by Joanna Brown

    In the business world, the importance of role models and mentors is a popular topic. Authors, lecturers and classroom instructors explain the value of having — and acting as — a mentor throughout your career.

    In the healthcare professions, mentorship is a formal social support that aids in professional development, from career selection in the beginning to advancement over the years. A mentor shares the benefits of their experience, helps to define career goals, encourages responsibility in working toward those goals, and (most importantly) keeps private conversations confidential. 

    “I really believe that people who have mentors — no matter what their career or profession be — do better and learn more than individuals who do not have people like that in their lives,” said CDS member Trucia Drummond, who served as the first female president of the Illinois State Dental Society in 2001. “When I first started practicing, I was very fortunate to rent space in an office where I met other practitioners who helped me immensely. I undertook procedures with their guidance that I would never have considered doing on my own. It was a great experience.”

    As the demographics of the dental profession have changed, many of the Chicago Dental Society’s female members have served as role models for their younger colleagues — both in the Chicagoland area and across the country. CDS’s record books are filled with notable women in dentistry.

    Many dentists mourned the loss of their mentor when longtime CDS member Jane Selbe died in March. Dr. Selbe was one of a few women practicing dentistry in the early 1950s (she was the only woman in the Northwestern Dental School Class of 1951), but remained a staunch advocate for equal treatment and opportunity.

    Jane Selbe

    Jane Selbe presenting an educational event during National Children's Dental Health Week in 1981.

    “In a time when there was still male dominance in our organizations, Jane was out there and inspirational as far as her life balance: she had a marriage and a family and a practice and she was a leader in organized dentistry,” explained CDS member Sheri Doniger, who will be installed as president of the American Association of Women Dentists (AAWD) in October. “She was always providing moral support, and it was because of Jane that I wanted to become president of AAWD.”

    Dr. Selbe served as the first female trustee of the Illinois State Dental Society, and president of the AAWD in 1976. She received the Lucy Hobbs Taylor Award for contributions to the advancement of dentistry. 

    “Jane Selbe was the first person to give me a volunteer position at CDS. She invited me to a lot of meetings and made sure they weren’t addressing the room as ‘gentlemen’ at a time when not many women were going to Branch Meetings,” recalled Susan Doroshow, who will serve as CDS’s second female president when she is installed for 2015. “Trucia Drummond, working with ISDS, appointed me to a reference committee that gave me exposure and work to do in a visible role.

    “Both women reached out to me in very personal ways,” Dr. Doroshow continued. “They recognized something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

    Dr. Doniger also pointed to Bosworth CEO Milly Goldstein, a role model who offers invaluable insight into the business of dentistry.

    “She is a good friend, but she also provides good advice and constructive criticism. She volunteers, she’s generous, she’s accessible and she’s taught me a lot about organizational structure.”

    Another local leader, Jacqueline Dzierzak was honored with both the Cushing Award and the Christensen Recognition Lecturer Award for her many achievements: writing articles for popular media and dental publications, appearances on local news and The Phil Donahue Show, lectures and clinical courses, all while managing a general practice and her position as an assistant clinical professor at the Northwestern University Dental School.

    Jacqueline Dzierzak

    Jacqueline Dzierzak circa 1990.

    While Dr. Dzierzak was honored for exemplifying “the changing image of dentists, vivacious and broadly eclectic,” she likewise praised Dr. Gordon Christensen (the award’s namesake) for his ability to “speak the common language. He doesn’t only tell you how, he takes you along the road and shows you each little step.” These peers learned from and admired each other.

    For others, organized dentistry has provided a stable of mentors for every career stage.

    Juliann Bluitt, who served as the Chicago Dental Society’s first female president in 1992-93, joined organized dentistry as a student, “because I saw the value that organized dentistry could offer a person who was just starting out — all of the services, all of the educational opportunities that were available — and I remained a member of organized dentistry all throughout my career.

    “My year as president was one of the highlights of my life,” she continued. “I had made so many friends and developed so many professional relationships. Being elected was quite an honor. It showed me the degree of respect that I probably would not have realized if I had just thought about it on my own — that my colleagues held for me. I have tried to maintain those relationships.”

    Juliann Bluitt

    Juliann Bluitt in 1993.

    The challenge is now for these leaders in organized dentistry to serve as role models and mentors to their younger colleagues. It is not a task they approach lightly.

    “It’s about reaching out to people and making them feel welcome and that it’s their profession, too,” Dr. Doroshow said. “There are so many choices that they have, we can’t give anyone a reason to keep away from organized dentistry. There’s lots to be done. I was given an opportunity to work on a membership issue and to create something where I saw a hole, and it opened the world for me.

    “As a mentor now, when I see even the smallest nugget of something special in the next generation of professionals, I send a note. When they do something daring, like speaking up at the House of Delegates, I let them know that we need their talents and that I am here for them as they progress as professionals because I know what it’s like.”

    Dr. Doniger advocated for identifying different mentors for different areas of your life. She turned to a stable of mentors as she developed different areas of her professional life, and as her children grew up.

    “Your mentor can be an unbelievable touchstone that you can go back to and trust enough to help you identify options, as far as treatment planning or your life’s path. I think that especially as women in the profession we have 18 plates in the air at the same time; we have families and aging parents and our jobs to start with, so it’s important to have a person to go to who is not your girlfriend and will not (automatically) tell you that everything is going to be ok.”

    Dr. Drummond added that mentorship is a role many accept enthusiastically.

    “I think that everyone who has benefited from a mentor wants to give back to someone else,” she said. “That is the key to engaging dentists to become mentors — asking them who helped them along the way and asking them to return the favor.  It’s a wonderful compliment to see your mentee succeed as you did.”

    Dr. Doroshow concluded, “Our responsibility is to be maximally engaged in our profession. Our organization is evolving. Don’t follow in my footsteps, but find a path to take the association to a new place that speaks to you and your peers. It’s going to be your baby to take care of.”