I am MDDS: Stefanie Walker, DDS
Stefanie Walker, DDS
What drew you to a career in dentistry?
As a girl, I loved arts, crafts, painting and creating anything where I could skillfully use my hands. I was an art major in high school in Germany and loved all areas of design. I have always paid a lot of attention to detail. At the same time, I was interested in the medical field and wanted to help people become and stay healthy. Dentistry best combined these areas of passion for me. Once I did an internship in the dental field, it became clear dentistry was the right career choice for me.
How do you balance running a successful dental practice and recharging with your family?
This is a million-dollar question, and I don’t have the perfect answer to it. What helped me the most was deciding there was no such thing as a perfect work/life balance. Some weeks are better (more balanced) and some weeks are worse (less balanced). There is so much that is out of our control, but if we do our best and are honest with ourselves and others, people will appreciate us, and we feel more at ease. As a mother and a business owner, I must always multitask. I try my best to take care of many things at any given time, but I often carry guilt when I can’t be everywhere I need to be. It helps to have close friends and colleagues who struggle with the same challenges, and who can share experiences and advice. It is crucial to have an organized schedule, a support network and a backup plan. Flexibility is key, though this is a tough trait to master for many of us Type-A dentists. My life runs on a schedule, and it’s not all work. Family and fun times are scheduled too! That way, I can make time for things that are important to me.
Are there any strategies you can share that have worked in creating a positive and uplifting work environment for you and your dental team?
The most important thing for me is to care. I care about my team and my patients, about their well-being, about what kind of practice I have and how we treat people. I try to lead by example and encourage my team and my patients to practice the same level of care I do. This is a guiding principle at Pearl Dentistry, and I think it’s the biggest reason patients are comfortable coming to our practice and entrusting their dental care to us. Professionalism, honesty and customer service are mandatory, and because these traits are becoming more difficult to find, treating people like they are family and with respect goes a long way. We also have fun together. I try to hire team members who have a positive outlook on life and a welcoming personality. We hold regular office team meetings, but we also meet for activities outside of the office. It brings us together as a work family.
More than half of graduating dentists are now female, what if any impacts do you think this will have on the future of dentistry?
There is data showing how female dentists, on average, earn less than their male counterparts, and are less likely to own their own practices or to specialize and advance slower in academic dentistry than men. I know many female practice owners, specialists and successful female dentists in all areas of dentistry. I believe that female dentists can achieve whatever they desire in our profession. However, for women who want children and families, this may be more challenging as it is difficult to do it all, and even more difficult to do it all very well. In my experience, this is why mothers, on average, work fewer hours and are more often part-time. Of course, this is not true for everyone, and great quality, private practices owned by women will persist.
What are some unique challenges women dentists face in the industry? How have you addressed those?
This goes along with what I mentioned above about trying to balance a work and family life schedule: being an excellent practitioner, caregiver, business owner, leader, on task at all times while also being the mother and wife you want to be. It’s very busy, and our profession is both physically and mentally demanding, which can drain you. Dentistry historically has been a profession with more women (support staff) than men, and more male dentists than female. This is changing with the increase in female dentists. Having an office full of women can be a challenge in and of itself. When I considered going into dentistry, I knew many practices with male dentists who had mostly female support staff and wives/partners at home taking care of the family. This of course is a more traditional set-up than the one I, and many of us mothers and practice owners have today. I feel very fortunate to have a team that supports me and each other, and I believe that I have worked hard at creating a cohesive “office culture.” Of course, not everything is in my control, so there is always a bit of luck involved.