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How we can choose to challenge in dentistry

Laura Gartshore

05 Mar 2021

Dr Laura Gartshore

This International Women’s Day, I call upon our profession to Choose to Challenge. Together, and individually, we can choose to challenge inequality, and we can choose to challenge gender bias; we can move collectively towards an inclusive world. We can also choose to support, enable, and celebrate one another, and we can choose to take responsibility to call out our own thoughts and actions if we catch ourselves falling short. It’s not always easy. However, from challenge comes change.

Across healthcare, there has been an urgent call to action to address systematic gender bias impeding equity for women, and to create institutional change that transforms the advancement of women within the fields of science, medicine and dentistry. In 1991, just 3% of all consultant surgeons were female. In 2020, this was still just 13.2%. Only 24% of trust medical directors are female, and only 37% of senior roles in medicine are held by women. This challenge is for all of us.

There have been challenges along my path as a clinical academic in dentistry. Moreover, there has been generous opportunity to celebrate others, and this has fast become the favourite part of my work. Following graduation with a BDS in 2004, I commenced a lengthy training in paediatric dentistry, through NHS pre-specialist posts, a (marvellous) clinical fellow secondment in Sydney, and an academic consultant pathway – juggling the demands of training, delivering higher education, and a PhD on route. I’ve recently become Programme Director for undergraduate dentistry at the University of Liverpool. Securing work-life balance has not always been straightforward, but it has been worth the effort. Dentistry is a career sometimes misunderstood, yet it is one which offers vast opportunity for finding your niche and for shaping a career to suit the individual; a chance to achieve self-actualisation. It’s for those who can multi-task, ride the tides of change, learn from the past, and who have a good support network.  

In 2018 I was successful in applying for the RCS England Lady Estelle Wolfson Emerging Leaders Fellowship. The Fellowship offers women an opportunity to fast track their leadership skills, and their career aspirations, through mentorship and networking. It offered a window of insight to the organisation of RCS England and FDS, and how committees deliver at College level. Various opportunities arose to get involved. Favourites included working with the head of marketing on FDS branding, attending the Women in Surgery Press for Success conference hosted at the Royal Institute of British Architects, meeting Professor Averil Mansfield CBE, participating in RCS England's Impact Review, and working with both the Education and the Membership and Engagement Committees. FDS offered advice and guidance at every step of the way. Our cohort of Fellows remain in touch to support and inspire each other. I’ve returned as a graduate to deliver a presentation at the Women in Surgery Lift As You Climb conference. It is a privilege to be a part of the College and the Fellows team, and I continue to put the year’s lessons learned towards advocating for the issues that I am most passionate about. 

I have learned that leadership is an action, not a position. That leaders talk about solutions, not problems. And that company is pleasant – diplomacy, transparency, generosity and ownership are skills that will help us #ChooseToChallenge together. We must choose to be unashamedly aspirational.


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