In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month this March, I’m sharing excerpts of interviews from two outstanding female leaders in dentistry who exhibit both authentic and transformational leadership qualities. Earlier this week, I interviewed Dr. Maxine Feinberg, the third woman to hold office of ADA president in 2014-15. Today, here’s an excerpt of my interview with Dr. Robin Gallerdi, president of the south suburban branch of the Chicago Dental Society, who shared her views on leadership.
Dr. Gallardi graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a D.D.S. degree, which she followed with eight years of general dentistry practice experience in Canada. She also pursued 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 holds dual board certification as an OMFS in Canada and in the U.S. Dr. Gallardi is currently on the executive council for the Illinois Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, the advisory board of OMSNIC, a malpractice carrier for OMFS, and the membership board for the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. Here are her views on leadership:
Q: What is your journey as an immigrant doctor?
Dr. Gallardi: I think because I am Canadian, and the fact that there are no language barriers and really no cultural barriers, although I might argue that Canada is very different culturally than the U.S., I think a lot of people assume that the transition here professionally is very easy. But settling here permanently was a very long arduous process. There are a lot of small nuances that people forget about, like getting a credit card in a new country, getting a driver’s license and obtaining a bank account. These steps seem very easy but they are in fact quite difficult when you are coming from another place. It’s difficult to advance your career. But diversity in dentistry or in our profession is really important. And bringing specialists in from other countries with different training and different cultures, I think is very important for our patients and also for the advancement of our discipline so that our profession can improve. The journey is very eye-opening but ultimately, it’s been a fantastic move for me personally and professionally. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again
Q: What do you think a practitioner should do to improve the diversity in our community?
Dr. Gallardi: Getting involved is number one. Putting ourselves in positions of leadership to help expand diversity or at least bring the mentalities of diversity to those platforms. We are all dentists first, and I am an oral surgeon second. The vast majority of oral surgeons in the United States are governed by our designation as a D.D.S. or D.M.D., so I think it’s important that we, as oral surgeons, get involved in organized dentistry because in many ways our specialties are removed from it. But without its association, we would not survive. I think our differences with dentistry make it even more important for us to have a voice on the dental platforms so that we can advocate for our own specialty where we have a lack of diversity, and significant lack of diversity even more so than general dentistry. I think this ensures that we can hopefully make some positive changes to our specialty, though the dentistry platform for the future.
Q: What are the challenges of female oral and maxillofacial surgeons in your opinion?
Dr. Gallardi: The greatest challenge for women oral surgeons is really to find other women mentors to help guide us. In many areas in the United States, there is a great underrepresentation of women in oral surgery. During residency, I did not have any female oral surgery role models, and the male role models that were there were not that good at mentoring women. As a woman in surgery now, I feel that I have a moral obligation to be a mentor to women who are starting their careers in surgery or even considering it as a career. Unfortunately, due to an existing culture in our field, it still remains very difficult to obtain positions on boards or other leadership roles. This slows that journey to equality. I would encourage other women to keep pushing to get into those positions. It may take a while, but it’s worth it because we are starting to make that change for the future.
Q: What are some of the messages that you have for new dentists, especially women?
Dr. Gallardi: I believe that it is our day-to-day actions that define us as a person and as a leader. You want to determine the core values that are unique to you as a woman and then build your professional life around those values. Once you do that, the sky’s the limit as to where your career will take you. You will have an enormous amount of personal satisfaction out of a career that is based on those core values. We no longer have to pretend to be something that we are not in order to be successful. In fact, I would argue that doing so might not lead to success, and that the alternative is the true pathway to success.
In addition, both Drs. Feinberg and Gallardi shared similar views on leadership for women: we must continue to show up and make differences.
They both stressed the importance of getting involved in organized dentistry as it is one of the best ways to make a real difference. The lack of diversity is then addressed through active participation of individuals with different backgrounds, different ideology, different needs, to voice themselves and to represent interests of different subgroups. Only when efforts are made consistently over time will we start to see real changes. Thank you Drs. Feinberg and Gallardi for your contributions to the profession of dentistry. We want you, for 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 ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership program and an author, speaker and coach on cultural competency and women leadership. Her first book “Pulling Wisdom: filling 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 in oral and maxillofacial surgery and stories by female surgeons”, an IDL project in hope to close the gender gap. She is a certified professional life coach of Pulling Wisdom Coaching and Workshops, LLC to help women and/or minorities professionals with struggles to gain confidence and excel in the professional world. She was recognized by Benco Dental as one of the Lucy Hobb’s Project’s “Women who inspire” in 2020.