In Conversation

Dr Alison Downes

Ever since Ali was in primary school, she was intrigued by the health industry. Whenever she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would always reply with “a dentist”−regardless of having no real concept of what the profession entailed at such a young age. She just always liked going to the dentist. Fast forward to 2020 and she is now practicing privately for Coastal Dental Care Mudgeeraba, after also working in rural and remote dentistry and public health.

As Ali grew up, she realised that the dental profession is a rewarding and logical choice for women wanting to juggle being a ‘career woman’ with working in an industry that allows you to help people every day. You can also be hands-on with raising a family if you choose to, as the hours and days are flexible. After all, in dentistry there is only so much work you can take home with you.

Ali is grateful that as a dentist she is forever learning. Dentistry is constantly evolving and this keeps things interesting for her. On the Gold Coast, where Ali is based, she is surrounded by a supportive and close-knit dental community that makes her choice of working in the field feel like the right decision. She is sure this is also the case for many other women in the industry.

Every day, Ali strives to be the best and most positive version of herself and respects and admires the attributes of the many people that she surrounds herself with. Her advice to those starting a career in dentistry is to “enjoy what you do on a daily basis. If you find areas of dentistry that you are more drawn to, then focus on that, so you can work each day doing what you love—and you get to help people in the process!”

Dr Brooke Parker

Dr Brooke Parker has been an ADA member since graduating from the University of Adelaide in 2005 and is the current President of the Sunshine Coast sub-branch. Brooke initially got into dentistry as she wanted to pursue orthodontics after seeing how life-changing it can be to give someone a beautiful smile. Luckily for her, she really enjoys it—so much so that she is the Principal Dentist and Owner of Yandina Dental. She has worked on the Gold Coast, in Sydney, The Blue Mountains and now she has happily settled on the Sunshine Coast. Brooke’s favourite things about dentistry is meeting people from all walks of life, looking after people’s dental and general health, continuously learning, and giving people the confidence to smile. Not to mention the chocolate she receives from her patients and specialists!

Brooke’s female role model is her Orthodontist back in Adelaide, Dr Helen McLean, who transformed her smile as a teenager. It is not just her orthodontic skillset that Brooke admires, however, it is her warm and kind nature. Brooke felt star-struck when she had the opportunity to catch up with Dr McLean last year at Adelaide Dental School’s 100 year gala dinner!

Brooke has noticed that in dentistry degrees in universities today, the females are outnumbering the males which speaks volumes about gender equality in the field. To females starting out in the dental industry, Brooke’s advice is to “Just go for it! Surround yourself with positive role models. Find yourself an awesome mentor. There are definitely times when you may need to put your big girl heels on. Also don’t rule out going rural as the patients are so lovely, you will occasionally be forced out of your comfort zone (this is a good thing) and you will learn lots!”

As the President of ADAQ’s Sunshine Coast sub-branch, Brooke likes to run special initiatives for women in dentistry. Last year she helped organise the inaugural Women in Dentistry High Tea on the Sunshine Coast, and she will do the same again later this year.

Dr Gina Irwin

From a young age, Dr Gina Irwin had positive dental experiences and looked up to her Uncle John Paterson and family friend Dr John Fisher who were both dentists. She noticed that they were kind, funny, successful, and enjoyed their lives. Although both were male, Gina never considered dentistry as a profession only men can be a part of. Instead, she thought women could do anything.

Gina currently works as a dentist at L&R Dental and is the Western Division Councillor for ADAQ. She was drawn to a career in dentistry because it allows you to improve people’s health, it has a good balance of hours and remuneration, and is full of opportunity.

Gina’s first female role models within the dental industry were her University of Queensland educators, Dr Jenny Smythe, Dr Barbara Woodhouse, and Dr Kaye Kendall. Since then, she has had many more; this includes friends and colleagues who have built successful businesses while raising families, such as Dr Cathy Findlay and Dr Georgia Sheehan, ADAQ President Dr Norah Ayad for her dedication, energy and passion, and Dr Joyce Perkins – the mother of the Chinchilla town dentist who was one of the courageous trailblazers of female dentistry.

Early in her career in South West Queensland, Gina worked mainly with male dentists. That was until years later when the practice employed younger female dentists. On a day-to-day basis, Gina doesn’t tend to focus on gender issues, as she knows that male and female dentists can be amazing and learn from each other to better the profession. Gina has noticed improvements in gender representation, however. Before joining the ADAQ Council two years ago, there were only four females out of 16. Now, there are seven. However, Gina says, that this still doesn’t accurately reflect the approximate 50/50 split of males and females in the workforce today.

Gina congratulates females stepping into the dental industry, saying “you are a trusted health care provider and you have worked extremely hard to get where you are now. Continue to work hard, gain experience, learn about people and business and you will find dentistry the career you’ve dreamed of – the unique combination of science, art and engineering. There will be challenges – it’s hard especially in the first few years – but anything worth having is worth working for. Don’t allow anyone to diminish the respect you have for yourself right now”.

Dr Kelly Hennessy

Dr Kelly Hennessy is a Senior Lecturer of Oral Health Practice in Rockhampton and the Central Division Councillor for ADAQ. For her, it was the medicine side of things that drew her to a career in dentistry, as well as the flexibility and excellent working conditions.

Growing up, Kelly’s mother was her role model as she taught her how to be a strong, independent woman. These days, Kelly admires the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern—for always leading with determination and empathy, and her advocation towards being both a parent and professional. When Kelly was deciding to take her husband and daughter to an ADAQ Council meeting, Jacinda was a big inspiration; Kelly thought if Jacinda could do it for a UN meeting, she can do it for an ADAQ meeting.

Kelly feels that with almost 50% of dentists being female, gender equality in dentistry is less of an issue than in other professions. However, there are still less female practice owners so it would be great to see that increase. Kelly believes that as a society we need to put more value on soft skills such as communication, empathy and teamwork.

To females starting out in the profession, Kelly says to “choose your first employer well. The skills and habits you develop in the first couple of years will set the tone for the rest of your career”.

Dr Malak Fouda

Dr Malak Fouda graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Dentistry in 2018, and currently works as a dentist at Raceview Dental Surgery. When she’s not helping patients, she is the ADAQ Recent Graduate and Student (RG&S) Committee Convenor.

Malak decided to forge a career in dentistry because of its unique combination of art and science, and how you can help people with both pain management and boosting their confidence and quality of life through aesthetics. The women she has met in the field have always been very supportive and encouraging of new female dentists. In her role as the RG&s Committee Convenor, she has noticed a strong female force with 8 of the 10 members in the Committee being women.

Malak is excited to be part of this generation and to continue the work of great leaders who have pathed the way. Her advice to females starting out in the profession is to “be persistent, be ambitious and surround yourself with a team of people who support you and cheer for you”. Her female role model is her mother, who enjoys going to work each day as a General Practitioner. Malak admires her mother’s work ethic and attitude towards work-life balance. As well as her incredible strength, ambition, and commitment.