May 2020 Volume LV Number 3


Common Ground

September 2019 Volume LIV Number 5

by Gary Rejebian, AAPD Foundation
Four times a year, a group of female pedi- atric dentists in the Cleveland area gathers in a hotel meeting room to connect, collaborate and commiserate over shared challenges. Even as the profession has become demo- graphically more female in the last decade, the distinctive composition of Women in Pediatric Dentistry–Cleveland as colleagues in the same dental specialty and geographical area has thus far remained unusual among study groups.
On a practical level, the quarterly evening meetings fit members’ work schedules better than day-long courses out of the office, while still affording social interactions not present in online CE programs. Most reward- ingly, their interactions have helped forge a tremendous amount of common ground for members seeking to expand their knowledge in the profession, bond as independent busi- ness owners, and support each other as moms and spouses.
Dr. Carolyn B. Crowell of Avon, Ohio, and Dr. Sonja A. Jarmoszuk, of Rocky River, Ohio, are private practitioners who founded the group about four years ago while attending an AAPD conference in Miami. 
"It’s a shame the Cleveland dentists don’t get together," Crowell recalls. "It seemed like we didn’t even know the people next door. We thought, ‘well maybe we can at least get the women together.’ Now we’re friends with our neighbors – and women who come from an hour away."
The group now comprises about 25 mem- bers.  Some of them trained together, but most come from different stages of practices and professional backgrounds. "I like the variety of ages," says Dr. Lisa A. Richards of Mentor, Ohio, who has been in private practice for 30 years. "Hopefully the elder members can be there as mentors to make practice life easier and to help our colleagues navigate the first few years. I am most excited about what I see in the younger generation—they’re so compassionate and energetic."
Along with keeping current on AAPD’s clinical recommendations and maintaining their social connections, co-founder Jarmo- szuk says the group is really helpful with gain- ing perspective on work-life balance issues and parenting tips.  "We even share recipes," she says.
Their individual similarities and differ- ences add richness to their camaraderie as pediatric dentists. Group members especially value having a supportive cohort of peers with whom to address challenging situations from a common perspective.
"It’s nice to go in knowing we are able to discuss things openly without judgment," says Dr. Trista Onesti, whose practice is in Solon, Ohio. "We’re all in the same boat every day of our lives." Having trained in both geriatric and pediatric dentistry and worked as a gen- eral practitioner for a decade, Onesti values consulting and working with other group members, and being able to refer out with confidence, when addressing an issue with a patient or helping a family relocate.
When Dr. Laura J. Westover joined Richards’s practice in 2018, she honed the finer points of working with parents in the operatory.  "The prep for the appointment is the most important thing," Westover says. "By taking the extra time upfront to discuss behaviors that we expect and see every day, and then what else could happen, we save time on the other end, because I know we alleviate parents’ anxiety ahead of time and then the appointment ends up going great."
For the practice owners in the group, having a safe space to share a variety of experiences has helped them realize they are not alone, while supporting their identity as women entrepreneurs.
"We get so trapped in our own worlds," observes Dr. Jennifer Bryk Hechko of Brecks- ville, Ohio, "that we forget others are all fac- ing the same issues, like how to respond to a poor online review without violating HIPAA regulations." At the same time, Hechko says, she can add to the conversation with knowledge of other areas of business owner- ship gained from her husband’s veterinary practice.
Group members feel their shared experi- ence fosters more self-confidence and respect.
"It’s definitely different being a woman in the business world," Westover observes. "I feel a great deal of mutual respect now, work- ing in a practice owned by two women."
As much as the group connects its mem- bers to one another, at least one member sees potential to better connect them in their communities as well. "It’s great to know your peers and not be isolated," says Richards, "I’m also very
mission-minded. I believe pediatric dentistry is a ministry and a mission, so it’s nice to hear from the group about the volunteer opportu- nities that we all get involved in. I would love to add a volunteering component—wouldn’t it be cool what can we do as a group? Be- cause it’s certainly not missing individually."
While efforts like a TeamSmile part- nership with the Cleveland Indians have successfully recruited a host of local dentists for one-day clinics, Richards says "we’re all involved but it’s very siloed….[the study group] hasn’t really explored our collective voice to get the pediatric dental message of dental homes and early care to the commu- nity and legislature. That’s another area to explore which is not on the table yet, but the possibility is there. It’s all about strength in numbers. With a common goal and mission, we can be really powerful. We just want to do the best for kids."

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