I started dentistry in 1985 at what was then The United Medical and Dental schools of Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital. We were the largest dental school at that time and approximately 50% of the intake were female.
I chose to do vocational training in its first year of introduction at Charing Cross Hospital and started working at the practice I currently own as a fresh faced, eager trainee in January 1990. My plan was to go into lecturing and I applied for a job at Guy’s hospital where I had qualified. And found myself pitted against a teacher who had taken me for my undergraduate degree. That was a weird feeling!
After the interview I was offered the job on the condition I continued studying for the Fellowship at the Royal College of Surgeons. This was a cross roads I faced as a woman because, if I took the position, I would have had to study for a lot longer and dedicate myself to the profession completely, or I needed to consider my personal life of getting married and having children, which was hugely important to me.
I knew doing the two together would not be an option at that point. I chose the latter and have no regrets. It’s interesting however that if I had been male I would not have had to consider choosing between having a family or furthering my career. But as women, we manage to juggle a lot of balls and still come out smiling.
I worked in a few different practices but my base was always the Fulham practice where I had started and I got to know my patients well. I went down to doing one day a week as an associate as I was bringing up my three boys and this was purely to keep my hand in dentistry. I would advise this to any woman who finds herself having to juggle these factors. Coming out of dentistry altogether makes going back difficult. I had lost some confidence, as doing one day a week of dentistry doesn’t really equip you for everything dentistry throws at you, but it meant I could see my regular, loyal patients and keep my hand in!
And then I threw myself in at the deep end when it transpired that the principal wanted to sell. So, I went from one day a week of dabbling in dentistry to owning and running the practice, literally overnight. What a roller coaster ride!
It has taken blood, sweat and tears to finally get where we are today…an all singing, all dancing, female practice. Not by design, I hasten to add, before I get accused of being sexist! We became The Fulham Dentist, and over the years our commitment to the profession and our patients has helped make us a success not just in Fulham but to the wider world as I am passionate about using social media to promote good dentistry and a positive image of our profession.
Having three boys and a home that looked more like a war zone meant I was able to give a more female feel and look to the practice. I opted for a raspberry (not pink) Belmont Cleo 2 dental chair when I finally rewarded myself with a new surgery, with a bit of raspberry trim on the cupboards and a glitter floor. The men love it too, actually! The practice is still moving forward and I have a lovely team of women who help promote ethical, preventive, high quality dentistry and excellent patient care.
That’s where I am today in my career as a dentist…. the principal of a fantastic, female, Fulham practice.
So after 27 years of qualifying here is my advice for all you fabulous female dentists. We work in a profession that is rewarding, flexible, ever challenging and doing it at the same level as our male counterparts. I love our profession and despite all the challenges, I would happily recommend it to anyone who wants a challenging career.
You can direct your career the way you want it to go but you’ll have to work hard at it and it will take years not months and you may have a lot of detours along the way. I know because that’s what happened to me.
To all the women who juggle work and/or families keep going. Without us the world would come to an end!
Sarveen Mann, Principal Dentist
Women in dentistry
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