Harmonizing Professional, Personal and Social Responsibility

With: Suhasini J. Nagda, B.D.S., M.D.S., FDS RCPF, Dean, Nair Hospital Dental College; Professor and Head, Department of Prosthodontics

Country: Mumbai, India

Suhasini J. NagdaThere is an old Indian proverb: “There is nothing noble in being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.” India’s proverbs and old sayings reveal many aspects about the cultural traditions of its society. The cultural tilt toward men as the dominant member of India’s society—along with many other countries—allows social barriers to linger for many women who want to shift from the role of a homemaker and take on other responsibilities.  

In addition to studying oral and maxillofacial rehabilitation, few people are committed to increasing growth among women dentists in India as Dr. Suhasini J. Nagda. For the last 35 years, the Mumbai, India-based Dean of the Nair Hospital Dental College continues to witness women’s advancement in the dental profession. Dr. Nagda is passionate about teaching women that they can have promising dental careers and that her own journey could serve as a testimony of what it means to “have it all.” 

We wanted to learn more from this international health professions educator, so we asked Dr. Nagda a few questions. Read her answers below. 

1. Describe the landscape for women in dental education in India (e.g., what are the numbers in dental school compared to postgraduate education, faculty positions and leadership). Are the opportunities for women equal to those for men at each level (dental school, postgraduate, faculty, leadership)?

Today, women in the dental profession generally enjoy equal opportunities. However, their participation, involvement and sustained leadership issues are individualistic. It is up to each one how she progresses. 

There are about 301 dental colleges in India offering undergraduate (B.D.S.) education and 211 for postgraduate education (M.D.S.). The number of seats available is 24,300 for undergraduate and 4,896 for postgraduate. I would also like to point out that 60% of students joining undergraduate education are women. In fact, the number is increasing steadily. In postgraduate education, women comprise about 25% of the total number of students admitted. This decline from undergraduate to postgraduate may be due to financial constraints or family pressure to get married. An increase in women faculty members is also seen, with 11% of deans and 5% of vice principals in dental colleges being women.

2. What successes/progress have you seen in women’s advancement during your career?

Being a woman in the dental profession for the last 35 years, I have seen an increase of women who opt for dentistry as a profession (i.e., 50 to 60% at the undergraduate level; however, this figure dwindles to 25% at the postgraduate level). The number of women in faculty, administrative positions, board of studies, academic councils and senates of universities is increasing steadily. A few women are also part of the Dental Council of India. More participation by women is seen at conferences, though they may hesitate to attend conferences away from their homes.

3. Are there perceived barriers to women’s advancement in dentistry? Please describe.

Personal barriers:

  • Lack of motivation and initiative.
  • Lack of family support and help from spouses.
  • Childcare and other family obligations.
  • Exclusion from informal communication networks.
  • Financial constraints.

Professional barriers:

  • Less opportunity for flexible working schedules.
  • Absence of programs that help in balancing work and family responsibilities.
  • Inequitable distribution of dental colleges and concentration in urban areas.

Social barriers:

  • Culture of place plays a major role in decision-making. Cultural roles demand that women be homemakers and males take on other responsibilities.
  • Cultural tilt toward males as dominant members and being given preference over females.

4. Can women “have it all”—a promising dental career, family and community engagement? 

Yes, women can “have it all.” It would be a tight rope to walk and would require working harder and executing multiple roles, but yet it is possible! With support from family—especially their spouses—most of the obstacles in their paths can be overcome. It is about creating a network with family and colleagues and recognizing where help can come from. Managing time wisely, setting goals, creating a flexible work schedule, planning and prioritizing work, and delegating work to others will help women to “have it all.”

5. What changes have to occur to support women’s equity and equality?

The following changes should be brought about to help the advancement of women:

  • Reaffirming women’s outlook and prioritization of their careers and professional needs.
  • Shifting the role of society and attitude toward women and their professional lives.
  • Changing attitudes of men faculty who are unconsciously prejudiced in having women as supervisors and at times as colleagues.
  • Raising awareness about women’s equity and equality.
  • Developing leadership and mentorship.
  • Encouraging role models.
  • Tackling unconscious bias.
  • Giving women a voice.
  • Providing women with a platform.
  • Making flexible work schedules available.

Dr. Suhasini J. Nagda is Dean of the Nair Hospital Dental College in Mumbai, India. Dr. Nagda also holds appointments as Director of Medical Education and Major Hospitals under the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai, and Professor and Head, Department of Prosthodontics at the Nair Hospital Dental College. Dr. Nagda was awarded the TC White Scholarship by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow in 2006. Her many contributions include starting the Dental Education Technology Cell at Nair Hospital Dental College and conducting a nationwide study on oral and maxillofacial rehabilitation. She also developed a module for collaborative oral and maxillofacial rehabilitation. Dr. Nagda is the 2012–2013 FAIMER Fellow, a two-year fellowship for international health professions educators who have the potential to play a key role in improving health professions education at their institutions and in their countries.

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 HarrisonS@adea.org.