Moving Beyond a Traditional Dental Career

With: Olawunmi Adedoyin Fatusi, B.Ch.D., FMCDS, FWACS, M.P.A., Cert Res Ethics,
Dean, Obafemi Awolowo University
: Nigeria

FatusiWith a longstanding research focus on maxillofacial neoplasm, Dr. Olawunmi Adedoyin Fatusi is nationally and internationally recognized for her work in the field. Her collaborations with clinical researchers in different specialties—both within and outside dentistry—has put her on the map as an in-demand speaker.

As Dean of the Obafemi Awolowo University Dental School, Dr. Fatusi is responsible for managing the third oldest continuously operating dental school in Nigeria. She leads a highly dedicated staff of experts who train dental students with the competences required to meet the oral health needs of the public throughout the 21st century. She is also the university’s Vice Chair of the Ethics Committee of the Institute of Public Health and Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial surgery.

We are inspired by Dr. Fatusi’s efforts and wanted to ask her five questions about her journey as one of the world’s few women dental leaders today. Here’s what she had to say.

1. What does a “traditional dental career” look like for women dentists in Nigeria?

The “traditional dental career” has seen more women dentists practice as general practitioners and more males specializing. When specializing, there have been the male-dominated areas of specialty, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery, restorative dentistry and community dentistry, while more females tend to practice pediatric dentistry and orthodontics.

2. How does this align with your personal career trajectory?

Personally, I decided to work in a field of interest to me and one that was mentally challenging. For me, this was oral and maxillofacial surgery. I had the support of my mentor, who helped me achieve my goal and aspiration to be a specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery. Mentorship made a lot of difference for me. At the time I was concluding my training as a specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery, I was one of the two females out of over 40 maxillofacial surgeons in Nigeria.

3. How would you define a non-traditional dental career?

A non-traditional dental career is a career option outside of traditional clinical practice, academics or research. However, things have evolved over the years and therefore it is difficult to imagine what it is and what it was like in terms of gender difference in dental practices in Nigeria. There is no typical gender delineation in specialization or in holding offices.

4. From your perspective as a dental education leader (dean), what trends do you see emerging in career choices for women in dentistry?

One of the challenges in the field is that we are seeing more and more female students get distressed with the length of time they need to invest in dental surgery education. With the incessant strikes in Nigeria, students in my faculty may spend as long as seven to nine years on a six-year course. This causes lots of delay in getting out of school and starting a family. Many start families immediately after they are out of school. This then either delays them starting their postgraduate training programs or they completely relinquish their desires and aspirations. Thus, the trajectory we had gained over the years, wherein we were seeing more and more female students study dentistry, is starting to reverse in recent years.

5. What advice would you like to share with women who want to be leaders in the profession?

I think all leaders in the field need to undertake short-term courses that not only build their capacity to lead, but also build their capacity to be gender sensitive. Gender sensitivity would enable leaders to address the particular needs of both male and female students and help institute policies and measures that would support girl-child education.

The Women Leaders’ VOICES series of articles by five women trailblazers and emerging pioneers explores various topics and issues facing the health sector worldwide. Each ADEA Women Leaders' VOICES article—which is hosted online by the American Dental Education Association’s 5th ADEA International Women’s Leadership Conference—features commissioned Q&A content for the global dental education, research, and practice community. Commissioned articles are branded with the ADEA Women Leaders' VOICES series signature design, and content is published consecutively over a period of time.  For additional information, please contact Sonja Harrison, M.S.W. at