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Utah's Dentist Workforce 'Overwhelmingly Male,' New Study States

LYTON, Utah — When Dr. Jennifer Brown told friends and family she wanted to be a dentist, her mother cried.

"I felt everybody was really supportive except for my own mom. She was not supportive," Brown said during recent interview.

She said, "I just want you to be able to focus on having your family."

Brown assured her that she would have a family. But before becoming a mom of five boys, she graduated from the Creighton University School of Dentistry in 2004.

She works 14 hours a week in a high-paying profession that enables her to maximize family time and gives the boys, ages 4 to 11, valuable time with their father while she's at work one morning and one afternoon each week and two Saturdays a month.

Despite those advantages, dentistry as a career among women in Utah is far from commonplace. A new study by the Utah Medical Education Council describes Utah's dentist workforce as "overwhelmingly male."

Just over 4 percent of dentists currently practicing in Utah are women, compared with 28.9 percent nationwide, according to the newly released "Utah's Dentist Workforce 2017: A Study on the Supply and Distribution of Dentists in Utah."

Although the numbers have increased since 2012 when just 2.5 percent of the state's dentists were female, Utah also trails the nation in the percentage of women enrolled in the state's two dental schools — the University of Utah's School of Dentistry and the private, nonprofit Roseman University's College of Dental Medicine in South Jordan.

For example, the latest cohort to start dental school at the University of Utah is 20 percent female — 10 female students and 40 male students.

The university is actively working to recruit more qualified female students, said Dr. Gary Lowder, director of student admissions for the University of Utah School of Dentistry.

"We're reaching out to high school students more and in the process using our current students to do that. They relate well. I'm also traveling to the surrounding states in our region and visiting the universities there to let them know who we are, what we're doing and invite their students to apply," Lowder said.

On December 1, 51 percent of all offers to attend the USOD's dental school starting in 2018 were extended to women, 72 percent of them from out of state.

That doesn't mean all students offered a slot will accept because many students have multiple offers to consider. Cost and proximity to family are key considerations for many students, he said.

One of the USOD's challenges early on was that it had no proven track record. Students want to attend a school that will help them compete for advanced training.

The USOD's first dental school class graduated last spring. Among the cohort of 20 students, 13 were accepted for advanced training, some in highly competitive specialty programs, such as oral surgery and orthodontia.

"Those fears are now laid aside, and we're now trending upward in our applications," Lowder said.

Nationally, numbers of students applying for dental school dropped by 9 percent in the past year. But at the USOD, 700 students applied to part of next 50-student cohort, compared with 500 the previous year.

Most female applicants to the school of dentistry have been from out of state, although "this year we had 12 qualified in-state applicants," he said. By comparison, 48 qualified applicants from out of state interviewed at the USOD.

Lowder said recruiters are working hard to encourage qualified women in state to apply with the goal of achieving a class that is evenly divided by gender or more closely in line with the University of Utah School of Medicine's physician training program, but cultural barriers exist.

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