Background and History

Longstanding inequities in women’s health in the education of health professionals were first addressed in a substantive manner by a 1993 congressional directive, which provided a basis for major changes in national policy. By 1994, NIH policy recommended the inclusion of women and minorities as subjects in clinical research, and the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) went on to fund two surveys. Women’s Health in the Medical School Curriculum (1996) and Women’s Health in the Dental School Curriculum (1997) became seminal reports related to women’s health in both medical and dental education. And, in 2001, the IOM published Exploring the Biologic Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter?, which “established the credibility of biologic differences affecting the health and health outcomes of both men and women.”[1]

With an understanding of the inextricable link between oral and systemic health, and with support from the ORWH and the Health Resources and Services Administration, ADEA sponsored two pioneering reports: Women’s Health in the Dental School Curriculum: Report of a Survey and Recommendations (1999) and Women’s Health in the Dental School Curriculum: Survey Report and Recommendations (2012). The ADEA Women’s Health Information Network Focus Group, convened in 2003, identified 23 disease areas of importance, with the intention of their inclusion in a digital network for dental health practitioners to improve their understanding of diseases and disorders affecting women’s health.

In the 1999 Women’s Health in the Dental School Curriculum report, the focus was primarily on female reproductive biology; a “lifespan” approach to women’s health was not considered in 1997. A new paradigm for women’s health that included interprofessional education (IPE), team-based care and a science base that benefits the health of both genders emerged from the 2012 study. Due to the connection between oral and overall health in the rest of the body, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical dysplasia/cancer, obesity, lipoprotein disorders and lung cancer were required to be included in dental school courses more in 2012 than in 1999.

The 2012 report contains many positive findings—foremost was that women’s health was being integrated in multiple disciplines across multiple subject areas. Women’s health instruction was being blended into curricula and covered as part of lectures or seminars but not necessarily as stand-alone topics. More than half of the respondents in 2012 reported that instruction on the impact of gender on oral health and health issues across life stages was required. All respondents in 2012 reported required coursework on osteoporosis and alveolar bone loss in postmenopausal women. Although improvements were seen in the 2012 report, both reports identified the need for continued change regarding women’s health content in the curriculum of U.S. dental schools.

Anticipating and complementing the release of the 2013 Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Women’s Health Curricula: Final Report on Expert Panel Recommendations for Interprofessional Collaboration across the Health Professions, ADEA sponsored symposia on gender-based research in dental and interprofessional education in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

[1] Women’s Health in the Dental School Curriculum 2012: Survey Report and Recommendations, pg. 2