Dental and allied dental education leaders from around the world brought insight and information to the third gathering of ADEA’s International Women’s Lead-ership Conference held in Montreal, Canada, August 28-30, 2005. The conference theme “Global Health Through Women’s Leader-ship” emerged from the two previous conferences, held in France in 1998 and Sweden in 2003.
Speakers and attendees from 21 countries and five continents addressed the global conference on issues ranging from the workforce of the future to the politically savvy leader and allowed attendees to participate in lectures, small working groups, and skill-building sessions. Additionally, posters and oral presentations were delivered over two days of the conference.
As in previous International Women’s Leadership Conferences, speakers focused on current trends in women’s leadership in dentistry and medicine within their countries, as well as oral health initiatives that are making differences among residents, particularly children. Many presentations were global and overarching in scope, while others were personal and specific.
Keynote speaker Dr. Vivian Pinn, Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health, National Institutes of Health, led off the major presentations, describing benchmarks of women’s health research and leadership. She described vastly improved statistics on the number of U.S. women in science and research, but cautioned that we still need to overcome perceived and real inequities of opportunities for women to advance in scientific realms. She reported that in 1960 women made up 8 percent of all U.S. scientists but equaled 37 percent by 2003. In 2000 women were the majority of both undergraduate and graduate students in life sciences; they enter postdoctoral positions at a similar rate to their male colleagues, also competing for NIH awards. She recommended, however, that improvements are still needed in how women are recruited into the sciences and how support is provided for the retention and advancement of women in biomedical research careers.
On a personal and professional level, Dr. Emöke Szathmáry, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, described her challenges of ascending to a leadership position in a university over a two-decade period in her speech, “The Challenge of Women Leaders in the 21st Century.” She described raising a family while beginning her career in university teaching, including returning to her post four days after delivering her son. She also expressed the important role that universities play in our lives, saying that universities preserve, advance, and disseminate knowledge, thereby changing people and societies.
Dr. Michèle Aerden, President, Federation Dentaire Internationale (FDI), Belgium, gave the keynote speech at the Celebrity Dinner, describing her career change to dentistry after a successful career in fashion and the long and challenging road she followed, as a wife and mother, to becoming the first woman president of FDI.
Throughout all presentations, global and personal, a worldwide perspective of oral health treatment and delivery was addressed.
Dr. Judith Albino, University of Colorado, discussed perspectives for science transfer stating, “Clearly the most challenging health problems of this century will involve the human aspects of preventing and treating disease … [and] suggests that our understanding of oral health issues must be developed with a worldwide perspective—on a country by country basis, or tribe by tribe, if necessary.”
Prof. Hari Parkash, India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, also discussed prevention and disease treatment in his native country of more than 1 billion. With a dentist-to-population ration of 1:10,000, delivering preventive care is difficult. Three-fourths of all dentists are clustered in urban areas housing only one-fourth of the population. The balance of India’s inhabitants live in rural areas where the literacy rate is 41 percent.
Many of the speakers, workshops, and poster/oral presentations clearly demonstrated how oral health care differs throughout the world, but commonalities exist: there has been an improvement in caries prevention worldwide; the oral-systemic connection has become more obvious; the profession is less gender-focused (in fact, women comprise the majority of practitioners in many countries); the number of women in leadership positions is increasing; and women leaders seek a network that crosses academic and professional boundaries.
Networking opportunities at the meeting were also abundant through the many small breakout sessions, oral and poster presentations, and skill-building workshops. The need and desire to continue leadership skill-building that ADEA and collaborators have developed will continue and prosper. The fourth ADEA International Women’s Leadership Conference is in the planning stages.