Women and Leadership


I was recently selected to become a member of the Oregon Dental Association Leadership Academy. As a participant of this group, I am learning how to become a more effective leader at both the community and state level.

Here is my interview for the April 2018 Membership Matters, a publication for the Oregon Dental Association, about my involvement in the Academy.

1.    What most excites you about being part of the inaugural ODA Leadership Academy?

I am so excited to have been selected for this inaugural class! We need more women in leadership roles and I am looking forward to learning how I can become a better leader so that I can mentor other women and lead my team better. My ODA Leadership Academy co-members are really interesting people with good ideas and I am looking forward to learning from them. They are also a lot of fun!

2.    What do you think the true role of a leader is?

Strong leaders are service oriented, putting the needs of those they are serving above their own. A leader can have tremendous impact in the world through this type of humble service.

Leaders also need to have a vision for where they are leading their team. Leaders hold the map for their whole group, and the clearer the vision, the less distractions and detours on the journey. When the group hits adversity (which is inevitable), the leader’s vision will guide the team through it successfully.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, leaders need to have integrity. Without integrity, leadership does not have lasting effects and can, in fact, be harmful.

3.    Who has been a primary mentor/influential person in your life and what have you learned from him/her?

It is hard for me to pick one mentor because I have had such great mentors both on the surgical side as well as the public health/epidemiology side of my career.

I have had two mentors who really helped me in my career as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

My first mentor was Dr. James V. Johnson, Chief of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Ben Taub General Hospital at the University of Texas School of Dentistry in Houston. Ben Taub is one of the busiest trauma centers in the United States. Dr. Johnson’s belief in me and encouragement in my career really helped me to gain confidence as I progressed through my residency. He trusted me to operate the most complex cases and saw to it that I got to operate those cases. His faith in me gave me courage to persevere through adversity.  I feel lucky to have trained with him.

My second surgical mentor was a cardiothoracic surgeon named Dr. Gene Guinn who I worked with while obtaining my general surgery training at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Houston. Dr. Guinn’s belief in my technical abilities as a surgeon and his encouragement in my surgical career have stayed with me all these years. I can still hear him saying to me in his Texan accent “Cut, don’t scratch!”

Both of these surgeons saw me as a surgeon first and a woman second. Their confidence in me, lack of misogyny and encouragement in my chosen career have provided me with the inner strength to keep going when times get hard. They also taught me the joy of surgery and helping others.

Finally, on the public health side, I received excellent mentoring from my doctoral advisor Professor Andy Olshan at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Public Health. Dr. Olshan helped me develop as a scientist by improving my critical thinking skills. He taught me the importance of framing a scientific question. I learned from him that the answers that you are seeking are often found in how the question is asked. If you ask the wrong question, you are likely to get the wrong answer.

4.    Would you rather be good and on time, or perfect and late?

Definitely good and on time. Perfection is seriously overrated and being late just makes everyone cranky!

5.    What do you most appreciate about the profession of dentistry? 

I believe that we have the absolute best profession in the world!  Physician colleagues often tell me of how unhappy they are in their profession due to managed care and how much medicine has changed during the past thirty years. They feel that they don’t have a say over their practices or their patient’s needs. Many feel that they are being told how to practice by third parties and they really dislike it. The joy has gone out of their professional lives.

As oral health providers, we have an opportunity to shape where our profession is going in ways that medicine does not. There are still opportunities for us as a group to shape our future. For some of us, private practice is our calling. For others, the corporate model makes the most sense. But I believe it is in the choosing that we define our profession and protect it.

We are also extremely lucky  in that we not only provide needed health services to members of our communities but also that we serve our communities by providing jobs, mentoring young people interested in the profession and giving philanthropically through participation in groups such as Medical Teams International and Mission of Mercy.

6.    Any words of wisdom you’d like to share with your colleagues and/or the aspiring dentist?

Never give up on your dream! Work hard, tell the truth and put the needs of others above your own. Treat others as you wish to be treated and have fun! Learn from your mistakes and have compassion when others make mistakes. Take time each day to remember how blessed you are and you in turn will be blessed.

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