In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month in March, I’m sharing excerpts from interviews with two outstanding women leaders in dentistry who demonstrate both authentic and transformational leadership skills. Earlier this week I interviewed Dr. Maxine Feinberg, the third woman to hold the office of ADA president in 2014-15. Today here is an excerpt from my interview with Dr. Robin Gallerdi, president of the southern suburban branch of the Chicago Dental Society, who shared her views on leadership.
dr. Gallardi graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a DDS degree, which she followed with eight years of experience in general dentistry in Canada. She also completed an OMFS residency at Montefiore Medical Center in New York before returning to Canada to complete a master’s degree in dentistry and postgraduate training in oral and maxillofacial surgery and anesthesia. She has dual board certification as an OMFS in Canada and in the US, Dr. Gallardi currently serves on the executive council of the Illinois Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, the advisory board of OMSNIC, a malpractice carrier for OMFS, and the member council of the American Association of Oral and Oral Surgeons. Here are her views on leadership:
Q: What is your journey as an immigrant doctor?
dr. Gallardi: I think because I’m Canadian, and the fact that there are no language barriers and really no cultural barriers, although I could argue that Canada is culturally very different from the US, I think a lot of people assume that the transition here is very easy professionally . But to settle here permanently was a very long and arduous process. There are many little nuances that people forget, such as getting a credit card in a new country, getting a driver’s license, and getting a bank account. These steps seem very simple, but are in fact quite difficult if you come from another place. It’s hard to advance your career. But diversity in dentistry or in our profession is very important. And bringing in specialists from other countries with different training and different cultures, I think is very important for our patients and also for the advancement of our field, so that our profession can improve. The journey has been very enlightening, but in the end it has been a fantastic step for me personally and professionally. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again
Q: What do you think a practitioner should do to improve diversity in our community?
dr. Gallardi: Participation is number one. Putting ourselves in leadership positions to help increase diversity or at the very least bring the mindset of diversity to those platforms. We are all dentists first and I am oral surgeon second. The vast majority of oral surgeons in the United States fall under our designation as a DDS or DMD, so I think it’s important that we, as oral surgeons, get involved in organized dentistry because our specialties are in many ways removed from it. But we wouldn’t survive without the association. I think our differences from dentistry make it even more important for us to have a voice in the dental platforms so that we can advocate for our own specialty where we have a lack of diversity, and a significant lack of diversity, even more than general dentistry. I think this will hopefully allow us to make some positive changes in our specialty, through the dentistry platform going forward.
Q: What do you think are the challenges of female oral and maxillofacial surgeons?
dr. Gallardi: The biggest challenge for female oral surgeons is to find other female mentors to guide us. In many areas in the United States, there is a large underrepresentation of women in oral and maxillofacial surgery. During my residency, I had no female role models for oral surgery, and the male role models that were there were not very good at mentoring women. As a woman in surgery, I now feel that I have a moral obligation to mentor women starting their careers in surgery or even consider it a career. Unfortunately, due to an existing culture in our field, it is still very difficult to obtain positions on boards or other leadership roles. This slows down that journey to equality. I would encourage other women to keep pushing to get into those positions. It may take a while, but it will be worth it as we are starting to make that change for the future.
Q: What are some of the messages you have for new dentists, especially women?
dr. Gallardi: I believe that it is our daily actions that define us as a person and as a leader. You want to define the core values that are unique to you as a woman and then build your professional life around those values. Once you’ve done that, the sky is the limit as to where your career will take you. You get a lot of personal satisfaction from a career that is based on those core values. We no longer have to pretend to be something we are not to be successful. I would even argue that this may not lead to success, and that the alternative is the true path to success.
In addition, both Drs. Feinberg and Gallardi shared similar views on leadership for women: we need to keep showing up and making differences.
They both emphasized the importance of getting involved in organized dentistry, as it is one of the best ways to really make a difference. The lack of diversity is then addressed through the active participation of individuals from different backgrounds, different ideologies, different needs, to express themselves and to represent the interests of different subgroups. Only with consistent work over time will we begin to see real changes. Thanks Drs. Feinberg and Gallardi for your contributions to the dental profession. We want you, because the future of dentistry is women.
dr. Cathy Hung is an AAOMS Fellow with a solo practice in New Jersey. She is an alumna of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership program and author, speaker, and coach on cultural competence and female leadership. Her first book “Pulling Wisdom: fill the gaps in cross-cultural communication” is currently available in the ADA bookstore as a practice management tool. She recently published her second book, “Behind Her Scalpel: A Practical Guide to Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Stories from Female Surgeons,” an IDL project hoping to close the gender gap. She is a certified professional life coach from Pulling Wisdom Coaching and Workshops, LLC to help struggling female and/or minority professionals gain confidence and excel in the professional world. She was recognized by Benco Dental in 2020 as one of the “Women who inspire” of the Lucy Hobb’s Project.