Why there’s no better time to be a woman in dentistry

As past president of the Womxn in Dentistry society at King’s College London, Faridah Otulana explains why the society is so important and how she feels as a Black Muslim woman entering dentistry. 

Please tell us a little bit about your journey into dentistry and how you found the experience of dental school

I had always known that I wanted to be a healthcare professional as I loved the sciences and interacting with people. I initially thought that I was going to be a surgeon until I was urged to look into dentistry as people believed that I would enjoy being able to use my hands earlier during my training.

It has been a love story since my first week of work dental experience. I applied to dental school in year 13 whilst studying for my A levels and was offered a place at King’s College London.

Fast forward five years and I have now completed by BDS degree and had a very enjoyable experience. I was very surprised at how hard dental school was because not only did you have to be book smart, but you also had to be good clinically. I learnt quickly not to take feedback to heart.

In addition, I was very involved in extracurricular activities throughout my time at dental school. From choreographing and dancing on stage in the King’s African and Caribbean Society annual showcase to leading tours of the dental institute to prospective students on open days as a student ambassador.

I also planned an Access to Medicine and Dentistry Day with the KCL Aspire team to support sixth formers students of African and Caribbean heritage as they transition from school to university.

Great friendships were made that I hope will last forever, as well as great connections and role models. I look up to a lot of my tutors and enjoyed discussing their careers.

What did you do as president of the Womxn in Dentistry society?

My role as president required me to plan and throw events after finding speakers that I believed would interest our members, liaise with other societies and stakeholders, be a helping hand and lead a wonderful team.

I also assisted with acquiring sponsorship as the previous year I was the treasurer which allowed me to have a greater appreciation for budgeting and negotiating contracts. We were able to keep tickets free to our events for members to improve access to our activities and promote our society’s mission to eliminate the barriers women face in achieving success.

After often being told by the few Black female students that there are on my course, that they loved seeing someone that looked like them in a leadership position. I felt compelled to always to do my best to lead by example and be a good role model.

These same comments sparked the idea for our first event which was held during Black History Month to celebrate Black Women in Dentistry to which we invited two phenomenal guest speakers, Dr Andrea Cupidore and Miss Deborah Bomfim who shared insight into their careers and what being a Black female dentist in a leadership position is like.

It was a fantastic event that explored the concept of intersectional feminism, which is defined as the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism and sexism) combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalised individuals or groups.


Later on in the year to celebrate Women’s History Month and all women in healthcare, we collaborated with the KCL Women in Medicine and Women in Surgery societies to throw the ‘Women in Scrubs’ conference. It was a jam-packed day that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

In the morning we had a talk delivered by Professor Kathleen Fan who is the first female dual qualified professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery in the UK and a role model to all.

We were then given an insightful talk which discussed one of the different paths available within the specialty of OMFS. The talks were then followed by a suturing workshop where we were able to gain and develop suturing skills with the support of successful female oral and maxillofacial surgeons.

After our lunch break was the highly anticipated panel discussion consisting of women that work in different fields across both medicine and dentistry in different stages of their careers such as a vascular surgery trainee and a dually qualified oral medicine consultant.

We covered questions submitted by the audience on topics such as how to achieve a good work-life balance, raising children as a healthcare professional and sexism in the workplace. During the discussion, the panellists shared their opinions, stories and advice.

To round off the day, we were given two informative CV and portfolio workshops where we learnt how to make our applications stand out.

Why do you think societies such as the above are important?

I believe that societies such as the Womxn in Dentistry society create a platform for us to celebrate the amazing work that women are doing in the field today, and learn, network and empower younger generations.

It is crucial that we have role models that can inspire future generations of women and show that it is possible to achieve greatness despite the adversities women face.

These inclusive societies also provide us with a safe space where we can work together to increase knowledge and raise awareness of the issues facing women through sessions such as the panel discussion, as all women wish to work in an environment where gender differences do not deter their developmental progress, opportunity, or advancement.

Do you anticipate any challenges as a new female graduate in dentistry?

Being a Black Muslim woman comes with its challenges in and outside of dentistry, and I would be lying if I said that this does not scare me. Despite this, I believe there is no better time than now to be a woman in dentistry as my predecessors did a brilliant job of paving the way.

I often receive the odd number of comments saying that I am too young to be a dentist or that I look too weak to extract teeth. I know that comments on my age and appearance will be a regular occurrence as I already get comments whenever I have a new hair style or wear make up. For example, I should wear makeup to look awake and refreshed but not too much otherwise I will not be taken seriously. Lots of contradictions such as these are prevalent in the issues I face navigating the world of dentistry.

I also think that I will need to work on coping with imposter syndrome and overcoming the fear of being intimated when taking up space. The last challenge that I anticipate should be relatable to all young dentists and it is dealing with the transition of working in a new environment and working within a new team but I hope that all will be fine.

What do you think the profession needs to do to improve equality and inclusivity?

I think that we need to realise that this is not a woman issue but an everyone issue. An improved mutual respect will help us to shift away from a misogynistic culture and foster a safer working environment for all which will ultimately allow for us to deliver a higher standard of care for our patients as I believe that when you feel good, you do good!

I also hope to see working whilst menstruating, pregnant and during menopause normalised and discussed.

We also need to work together as a profession to educate each other and patients to prevent harassment and discrimination from being swept under the rug. I recently completed a module on how to deal with harassment in the workplace directed towards yourself and how to support others. I would love to see modules such as these become mandatory in the future.

In addition, I believe that there needs to be a greater number of scholarships and bursaries for groups that may be facing financial hardship such as single mothers. We also need to host more events year-round to celebrate Women, such as the Women in Dentistry webinar hosted by Dentistry.

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