Role of women in dental academia

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Role of female doctors in Pakistan gets under question by PMDC as dropout rate increases (Photo credit: Thinkstock)
Dental Tribune Pakistan

By Dental Tribune Pakistan

Tue. 13. August 2013

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Karachi: Among the various factors influencing the choice of an academic career, one of the most important was the influence of mentors and role models. As one author said, "Mentoring activities and creation of opportunities for career development is a crucial factor in developing interest in academics among graduate dentists." Accepting the women as change agent will definitely bring many improvements and reforms.

According to a famous saying, when you educate a man, you educate one person; but when you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation. Whether this principle is true or not, the following paragraphs will explain to many people, the importance of having a woman occupying the highest rank in a learning institute.

Regardless of the fact that females have been present in every field of universal knowledge, history bears little trace of this fact. This fact points to a cultural pattern that favors the accomplishments of men over women. The role of women throughout the human history was to take care of the family, protect them from illness and to seek remedies for it. Since oral problems have always been so common, these were given a fair amount of attention at home.

The yawning gap between the number of women and men (If the number of medical and dental graduates registered by the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC) over the last one-and-a-half years is authentic), then women continue to be on the march. Currently, there are about 70% female students studying dentistry in Pakistan as opposed to only 30% male students. According to PMDC statistics upto 28th March 2013, registered dental practitioners for BDS were 1,1840 in total, registered females are 6,840 (57.7%) while number of registered males is 5,000 (42.2%). In Sindh today, 2,825 women hold the license to practice dentistry, but the number of male dental licensees is relatively low 1,514. The situation is no different in Punjab and the federal area, where female dentists out-number male dental practitioners (2,748 to 1,983). However, there are still more male doctors practicing, than women.

Although the available statistical data for Pakistan gives a picture where more female Dentists are practicing & occupying academic posts in Dental studies, but the story on the other side is different. We cannot be fair without eliminating gender bias in our Health & Educational context. Though there have been dramatic increases in the number of women entering medical and dental schools since the 1990s, the rise in the number of woman faculty members has not been equally dramatic. There still remains a scarcity of women as deans/HODs in both private and government learning institutions. The question is; Why don't women pursue a career in dentistry or its administrative level? when they always seem to take more interest in dentistry than their male counterparts?

How different women and men are in terms of advancement and how the "glass ceiling syndrome" remains prevalent today. For example, we may think men are logical, women are social; men are competent, women are flaky. As a result, men are consistently overrated and women underrated by coworkers, bosses, and themselves. The resulting advantages and disadvantages may be small, but they accrue over time to create large gaps in advancement.

We can take good examples from western countries that; while the number of women professors in Canadian universities has been growing, the proportion is generally lower than many other professions. The percentage of women registered in dental programs in Canada and the United States, is on the rise (from 40 percent to over 50 percent in some schools), but in Pakistan, although many get admission in Schools of Dentistry, but they tend to leave their education or career incomplete. We cannot deny the fact that Female Dentists, after graduation, either leave their profession behind or move forward with some other profession. Some good examples of attractive jobs that female dentists prefer to adopt, are; Media, Marketing, NGO or Health management.

Although the number of women professors is lagging behind worldwide but continuous efforts are being made for improving the recruitment of females. Women made up roughly 20 % dental faculties in Pakistan, as compared to western countries, where the ratio has reached 40%. In Pakistan, more women are being hired, but we need to do more, to ensure the progress to date is not lost. We are waiting for concerned authorities like PMDC, PDA & CPSP in Pakistan to look at the shortage of females in Dental Academia, take ownership and then start activities to retain female dentists in the same profession, promising them a secured future in this academic career. How long will it take to start? and who would be responsible for monitoring of gender equality in Dental academia? Only time will tell. Its time for us to think.

Pakistan seems to be sailing on the same boat with the U.S and Canada. With the Teaching positions like, dean, professor, assistant professor, senior registrar, demonstrator and mentor/counselor; women usually fill the vacancies of mentorship or counsellorship only. What could be the reason for women not occupying the top academic leadership positions? The answer is; hands down, their academic qualification. So, why don't most women continue higher education? The answer is; a male dominated Dental Profession finds it easier to select men for higher positions. Professional inequality may have discouraged many talented females from excelling in Dental academics as a profession. Who will answer these questions (that remain unasked)? The PMDC, PDA, CPSP, Ministry of Health & Education or Local Medical & Dental colleges Deans? Will anyone reply?

National wide when we see the Women Dental Surgeons, the number of female dental surgeons, working as Consultants, is even more disappointing. According to PMDC statistical data; In March 2013 total number of RDP working as specialists in Pakistan is 999, but out of those, just 26.92% (269) are women, while 73.38 % (733) are men.

Among the various factors influencing the choice of an academic career, one of the most important was the influence of mentors and role models. As one author said, "Mentoring activities and creation of opportunities for career development is a crucial factor in developing interest in academics among graduate dentists." Accepting the women as change agent will definitely bring many improvements and reforms. Women already have the proven capacity to be the leaders at their own dental education institution. She can easily serve as the change agent within the dental sector. There is a need to realize and appreciate the role of Women in Dental Academia. If we analyse the cause of lesser females reaching higher positions, it may come up as lack of financial assistant for career development, which appears to be the main reason why women in Pakistan are not pursuing continuing education. Whilst in U.S and Canada, recruiting women is all the more difficult, when the demands of a university career run up against the desire to have children.

Though we agreed that west too have a smaller ratio of women at higher positions in Dental academia. We can appreciate the best part of west data is that they realized the gap and are trying to fill it, by recruitment of Females in Higher Positions in dentistry.

The progress of women in academic dentistry lags slightly behind, as compared to the progress made by women in academic medicine. While the advances have been substantial, there still are a significant number of dental schools here in Pakistan, without any women representation in the faculty or leadership roles. Though the statistics in both the academic medicine and dentistry show progress, but there is still much room for improvement in the status and role of women in Pakistan. The leadership potential of women can be capitalized in medical and dental academics. But this talented lot is being underutilized, unfulfilled and unrealized in our part of the world. The Authorities should take serious notice and action to address this growing challenge.

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