Dentistry Part 1 – When a Woman chooses her Profession over and above Herself

by Rachel Mascord, Australia 

Twenty-two years ago I entered dental practice.

Dentistry proved to be a very challenging career for me for many years. My relationship with it degenerated to the point that for years I hated going to work. I woke every morning dreading the day ahead and longed to escape. In trying to deliver perfection constantly…I lost connection to an understanding that true care and tenderness were possible – and an essential part of this field of work. 

Moreover, I had no sense that there could be tremendous value in the quality I brought to my work by simply ‘being the real me’.

BEING A WOMAN IN DENTISTRY

I was a fairly bright young woman with a natural tendency to care for others. My self-confidence was very low, so I entered into my dental studies needing that qualification to bring me that confidence. I believed that in getting my degree I would have true value to bring to the world. I falsely thought dentistry would give me a sense of ‘worth’ and ‘importance’.

I did not understand that I already had something valuable and precious to bring to dentistry, something that was already within me before I attended a single lecture. To me, being a woman did not seem to have any special value or contribute anything to the intellect I’d held as being my most precious asset. I did not feel like I was breaking any ground being a woman in the dental profession and could not conceive that being a woman made any difference to the way I would be in dentistry, other than the benefit of having smaller hands!

DENTISTRY RIGOURS 

The study of dentistry required intellectual rigour. The volume of work was overwhelming so there was not much time to learn the required technical skills: it was not an environment that fostered real learning, reflection and understanding, nor did it nurture students in any way. I easily fell into the trap of becoming competitive and hard-edged, all the while suffering acute anxiety that contributed to chronic insomnia and severe gastric reflux – at age 19.

Body posture was ignored in the clinic. Back and neck pain were “normal”. Clinical requirements were stringent and also testing. If we did not achieve enough work there was a real risk of failure and that meant returning for another year to do it all again…

COPING MECHANISMS

To cope with the stringency we had to develop many skills that prepared us for our working years ahead:

  • we became highly organised
  • developed the ability to plan ahead
  • did as much as possible in short periods of time

But there was a price to pay for this level of intensity:

  • it was normal to be anxious
  • quality of the work was paramount but what we did to ourselves was not
  • our quality of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing was not important

Students who did not cope ‘just weren’t cut out for the rigours of the dental profession’. It was an unforgiving environment that created a certain way of perceiving our patients – they were seen as the source of needed units of work and never as people in need of care.

For me, Exhaustion became Normal

LOSS OF HARMONY – ERRATIC MENSTRUATION

My monthly periods were always chaotic, unpredictable and brought severe pain, fatigue and nausea. At the time I did not understand what I absolutely know to be true now; that the menstrual periods I experienced showed me the way I was living was completely out of balance to my body’s natural harmonious rhythm. My body would never choose constant anxiousness, overwork and self-criticism! This constant striving, pushing and coercing of my body from all the chosen ideals and beliefs made it impossible for my body to be in rhythm and experience a simple cleansing period cycle. In addition, the physical problems of working in dentistry such as “Dentist’s back” and mercury poisoning were mentioned but were seen as just a normal part of the profession.

ABSENCE OF SELF-CARE IN TRAINING

Our teachers neither talked about nor demonstrated in themselves a level of self-care. Their emphasis was focussed on “good workmanship”. What this meant was that the work was outstanding, when measured by strict technical parameters. The state you were in physically, mentally or emotionally when producing that work was of no significance whatsoever. You could be depressed, angry or frustrated, with an aching back, criticising your assistant but none of that mattered if the filling was “good”.

WOMEN ROLE MODELS – FURTHERING EXCLUSION

The women who taught us were ‘hard’ in their physical bodies and harsh in the treatment of female students. With the better-looking male students they would be quite flirty, yet were cold or cool when addressing women. This atmosphere had compounded my lack of trust towards women and I became quite scathing and critical of how bitchy and undermining they (women) could be. I wasn’t able to see that they offered anything different to our male teachers, other than greater harshness and more demands. These were the women who were our role models. In them I saw nothing that reflected a beautiful, tender, womanly way, united with skill and care, so I just learned to dress the part and developed a tough “sexy” efficient walk. I learned to push myself through pain, tiredness, insecurity and a dislike for myself.

In my dental training, it was never overtly stated that as women we were seen as inferior, however the male orientation operated at a subtle level. Disdain was the reaction to an overwhelmed woman expressing with tears, or asking for help. I expressed disdain for them too – how hard had I become within myself?  “That time of the month” jokes were directed towards women who were upset or they were mocked for “being emotional”.

WHAT IS A ‘REAL’ WOMAN?

What I came to believe and imbed in myself was that my feminine qualities of innate tenderness and gentleness had no value against my capacity to produce excellent work at a pre-set pace.

Being a woman in this demanding set-up meant that you had to override your body’s natural rhythm… constantly.

The beautiful natural cycle in energy levels that all women experience had no place in dentistry.  

It was considered a weakness to give in to that. A real woman got on with it and maintained a constant level of output. Coffee, chocolate, late nights and pursuit of excellence provide the energy to keep going. To be gentle, feminine, or heaven forbid to cry, was tantamount to failure. You could look “sexy”, but gentle or tender? Never! This atmosphere fostered separation, with selfish behaviours and arrogance, or hiding away and just getting on with it, alone.

It truly hurt to live and study this way, but it was the only way we could see.

The fuel that kept me personally going was the burning desire to succeed, to be the smartest, “the best”.

I did not value my physical, emotional or mental wellbeing. I believed that I could care for myself later – when I was ‘rich and successful’….

Discover how I turned this around in Part 2 Bringing Self-Care to Dentistry  – 7 Steps to Returning to Love

105 thoughts on “Dentistry Part 1 – When a Woman chooses her Profession over and above Herself

  1. Women in dentistry caring for themselves and their patients equally will gradually bring dentistry back to a caring profession.

  2. “It truly hurt to live and study this way, but it was the only way we could see.”
    Crazy that is the common way to study for most people, amazing Racheal that you are able to show us it does not have to be that way.

  3. I just started working as a dentist and I remember saying to my partner that it feels like we are mopping the floors but forgot to close the tap so the water keeps running. And what you said about how you all saw the patients ties in with that: “they were seen as the source of needed units of work and never as people in need of care.” If we don’t see our clients as people in need of care we just treat the problem but don’t look further than that. When we do see the need for care we can see it is bigger than just fixing the teeth, and we can bring the needed care, nurturing and love to it which will help the person to heal and not repeat the same issues again.

  4. Unfortunately this is all too common in our society as it stands, with many women overriding their body’s natural rhythm, ‘What I came to believe and imbed in myself was that my feminine qualities of innate tenderness and gentleness had no value against my capacity to produce excellent work at a pre-set pace.’

  5. The power of reflection or lack of it is clearly demonstrated in what you share Rachel – as a woman in dentristy it would seem you are already at a disadvantage and the levels of disregard are high for all but women have the added burden of feeling that they must prove that they are able to keep up with the men. The harsh learning environment is detrimental to all and this has a massive impact on the quality of care that then extends to patients so everybody misses out.

  6. When we take all of us to what we do, whether this be our profession, our home life, our friendships or relationships, we will be shown step by step how to live in harmony both with ourselves and those around us.

  7. This unfortunately is the mindset of many, and then they get stopped by an illness or something, ‘I did not value my physical, emotional or mental wellbeing. I believed that I could care for myself later – when I was ‘rich and successful’….’

  8. Thank you for sharing honestly what can happen in training for this profession, we can be so disregarding to ourselves merely to get qualified, and so obviously this will affect our patients.

  9. I had no idea dentistry was so brutal in its training. In the last few years I’ve had some amazing dentists who’ve been so respectful and caring. They’re all very experienced and I wonder if this has given them the confidence to relax and be themselves more. So amiss training in the care industries doesn’t fully embrace the fact that if we accept abuse in our lives this is communicated through to our clients and they cop it too. In the workplace and on social care training courses, I’ve heard you can’t care for another unless you are well enough to but it’s cursory stuff – nothing that calls us to be loving and nurturing of ourselves and bring this beautiful grace to others.

  10. This happens so much in our lives, we place something else above who are within “To me, being a woman did not seem to have any special value or contribute anything to the intellect I’d held as being my most precious asset.” Be it our intelligence, how we look, being a mother, a daughter etc, we bring our focus to what we do rather than who we are from within. We do have something to bring, through being ourselves, no trying, hiding, pushing but being.

  11. Rewind 17 years and you would have found me living in a penthouse apartment, with a great car, partner, great clothes, well paid job, well groomed/coiffured, ‘fit’ (to blackbelt kick boxing standard), big circle of friends, etc etc and I looked from the outside to be ‘successful’ but despite all of this deep inside I felt tired, desolate, anxious, irritable, sad, and lonely. Nowadays with the inspiration of Serge Benhayon, I am deepening my relationship with myself, learning what is true for me, and taking more care of my body and of my wellbeing than ever before – and deep inside I am finding settlement, a feeling of stillness without the constant whirr of worry, anxiousness. Yes I live in a great apartment, and have great clothes, but nothing like I used to – as I now chose to live in a way that is guided by my own body, and not by what others do. Too often in society we push through and tick the boxes, yet deep inside we are not well or hurting. Far better to live from the inside than to continue to try and fill ourselves up from things outside of ourselves.

  12. These sharings from all work/professions are pure gold, not in that it is a celebration to see that things are the way they are as highlighted by Rachel here, but, so that we can start a conversation about this, and get real, and honest about work, and about our responsibility in that – as yes, the employers, education/schools etc have a part to play in this, but equally so do we and self-care has always been an option whether we chose it or not. (Ive never seen a job description that says ‘do not self care’!)

  13. Rachel this is a terrific blog, nothing is worth compromising ourselves over, and when we have to constantly override what our body is telling us in order to achieve something, we have to ask ourself if there is another way we can do this without compromising ourselves, and it has to be yes, simply bringing all we are first and foremost, without hesitation brings us a greater foundation to work from.

  14. We learn from quite young that in order to succeed and be seen to be someone, you have to abuse your body to do what is needed to sustain the constant need to do/be more. It seems we are willing to risk our health to achieve those goals but where is the love in all of that?

  15. This is disgusting conditions Rachel. Your locked into these conditions aren’t you? How do you study ‘lovingly’ outside these boundaries? It starts by having this awareness. What I would love to read is how you now work in the natural rhythm and sacredness you talk about as a woman. Better read Part 2!

  16. Wow what insight Rachel. The dentistry reveals itself were as woman, you have to act like a ‘normal’ man, a man that does not cry, show it tenderness and just lives with pains as they are ‘part of the job’. And that picture of a man is false as well.

  17. It is amazing just how little we do value our physical, emotional or mental wellbeing when we are determined to obtain some goal and forget that it is the quality of what we bring to everything we do that really counts.

  18. Exhaustion can become the normal when we put everything and everyone before ourselves, I know this as I had created that pattern in my own life. I did become exhausted, adrenal issues and the like. It is hugely disregarding to yourself and all those around you.

    1. And that in itself deserves a study – as it is possible that when we look at the rates of illness, disease, and exhaustion specifically there are some root causes that we haven’t yet understood – e.g. what you share by the constant disregard of ourselves we deplete our body and it doesn’t have to be that way – there is actually another way.

  19. When you discuss that you can be sexy but gentle and tender now, I had a sudden flash of the hardness many of us have taken on as women, and how we use sexy in that hardness, and of course being gentle and tender had no place in hardness. Being sexy, tender and gentle, that is something I can feel is so different, a quality of being ourselves first, connected to our bodies and knowing that in us is completion already, I can feel the gorgeousness of the women we can be when we connect to ourselves first and then take this to our professions. Are you ready world!?

  20. “patients – they were seen as the source of needed units of work and never as people in need of care.” this is a sad reflection on the training for a profession which calls for deep caring for others who may be apprehensive of a visit to the dentist.

  21. It’s extraordinary that in the face of such disregard and abuse, whether blatant or subtle in kind, we tend to submit and conform rather than question or challenge the status quo. Yet the status quo is only that because we have allowed it through either our ignorance of there being another way that does not cause such harm or our silence and acceptance of a normal that we deeply feel should never have been allowed to be…

  22. It’s crazy that we force so many women to choose between their career and caring for themselves when it is crucial that we all learn to care for ourselves whatever we are doing. Thank you for shining a light on dentistry but my sense is that it reflects so many other areas and professions where self-care is not even on the radar let alone given the high priority it deserves not just for the sake of those training but all those they will go on to treat and care for.

  23. Rachel thank you for being so brutally honest, it is both refreshing and exposing to read how the dentist industry truly is. Until we appreciate ourselves in our workplace we will always be striving in an never ending pursuit of recognition.

  24. I loved reading your honest account of school and dentistry Rachel as it is so relatable for many other fields today. Having worked in retail for many years, which is primarily female based, I see many women push through and just try to get the job done: Multi-tasking is big in our industry and championed by many. It’s funny though how we deny the true care and support for our bodies and yet it is the vehicle in which we express our every movement everyday.

  25. ‘I did not understand that I already had something valuable and precious to bring to dentistry, something that was already within me before I attended a single lecture.’ . . . this is something all students should know about themselves. And knowing now that pain and discomfort is the body’s way of communicating to us that the way we are moving is not taking our body into full consideration I laughed when I read . . . “I believed that I could care for myself later – when I was ‘rich and successful’….” not at what you have so honestly written but at how we so often put the very vehicle that supports us, our bodies, last on our list of what needs to done.

  26. I love your raw honesty here Rachel. Cant wait to hear part two, I am on the edge of my seat! I can relate to putting perfection above true care, it is a trap that does not serve the whole.

  27. Wow, it really does sound so full on, and I guess not too dissimilar to what goes on in many other fields. Even the field I am currently temping in is so male dominated,and even for them there is this huge asking to be tough and hard. The moment there is the tiniest suggestion of tenderness, it is shut down, mocked and ridiculed for a good 5 minutes, and only to be brought up again later to poke more fun, if not everybody was in the room at the time. It’s pretty horrifying what we do to eachother.

  28. I welcome the day when we all know the fact that, ‘I already had something valuable and precious to bring to’ whatever job I have.

  29. There seems to be common thread for us as women to identify ourselves by what we can achieve for our sense of worth and value. And I have observed both with myself and the women who I know, how when we choose a particularly high ideal to aim for, there is that much more that we have abandon within ourselves to attain it.

  30. This honest blog is pure gold – and would do well to be part of a training/CPD/curriculum for all healthcare professions as they train.

  31. A brilliant blog Rachel, deeply honest, and revealing of how we can give over so much of ourselves to a role, a profession, a job, to our studies etc with little or no care for our body – which is what we then expect to deliver on a daily basis when we are working and we get frustrated when our body is tired, sore or achy. With anything if we dont invest and take super care of it it becomes out of kilter, in need of maintenance and attention. Our body deserves absolute care and attention so that that foundation means we can be our best at work and in our lives. It also interests me as you ask that in our healthcare professions we dont make self care and our body naturally part of our training.

  32. This is huge: “I did not understand that I already had something valuable and precious to bring to dentistry, something that was already within me before I attended a single lecture. To me, being a woman did not seem to have any special value or contribute anything to the intellect I’d held as being my most precious asset.”
    What this says about the value of women in our society is enormous… As in, how de-valued we have allowed women to be, barely retaining any sense of what it can be to live as a ‘true woman’ in this world. Like yourself Rachel, I never came across true role models for women for many years of my life – it was a ‘void’ I always felt deeply… Until coming to the work of Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine, and getting to know Natalie Benhayon and Miranda Benhayon (both deeply amazing women), and becoming a part of women’s groups that have explored, and continue to explore all that the woman who lives true to herself entails.
    Had I entered the workforce myself many years ago with the foundation I have now, it would have been a completely different story…

  33. Thank-you for exposing the harshness of such an environment and culture, Rachel. Such ‘bars set’ for any of us, by their very nature do not leave room for one to actually expose how damaging the whole of the environment and culture is – until one as strong as yourself, who has done the work in reclaiming who she is, stands firm and views the whole as it is. Until then, such a culture will play on every nook and crevice that exists in the edifice of our lack of self-worth, making us feel that it is ‘we’ who are never enough, keeping us on its punishing treadmill, even whilst we may build up resentment and anger at how it all is…
    How much of human life is dictated to in such ways? And how deeply needed are those, who via such true exposure, have the capacity to bring change to such systems and ways that dehumanise and devalue who we are, as in this case, giving the stamp of approval to then treat patients with the same level of disregard – love, tenderness and care having long been erased from the picture entirely.
    I look forward to reading your ‘Part 2’…

  34. “Being a woman in this demanding set-up meant that you had to override your body’s natural rhythm… constantly.”

    And herein lies the evil (the absence of love)…because in-truth, the essence of being a woman is knowing how to honour the innate rhythm that governs our body. Without this, there is no true expression of the female, she is simply supressed, reduced and made to function as who she is not, all to fit in with a world running out of balance with male energy. By bringing the true femaleness back, the true maleness is also restored. Whether male or female, we are each a precious and tender divine being that has held back expressing as such.

  35. To truly care for another we must first love and care for ourselves. For it is the quality of being that we are in, the way we move, the way we express, that is what will be transferred to the people (yes real people!) in our care, albeit it with technical finesse. It is alarming to read your first had account of the brutality at play in dentistry Rachel because it clearly shows us how, as practitioners we unwittingly abuse our clients by virtue of the fact that we are in a state of abuse with ourselves. A very sobering read.

  36. It is shocking that all the emphasis is on the product output with no attention paid to how we look after ourselves in an activity. We would never treat a mechanical vehicle like this and expect it to just keep going. Our training regimes in so many areas need to be overhauled to put self-care at the top of the agenda and then learning the necessary skills for whatever profession we have chosen will follow with much less stress and strain on all concerned.

  37. “I did not understand that I already had something valuable and precious to bring” When as women we lose connection to our natural preciousness and femaleness in order to be recognised as tough as men we deny ourselves and others of the naturally caring and nurturing women we are.

  38. I’m currently a nursing student at university, while being a male in a primary female dominated profession I can see how easily a male is still perceived as a benefit even though being the minority. Like dentistry we are constantly taught to be the advocate for the patient and deliver good patient care, of course there is nothing wrong with this only when it comes at the expensive of ourselves.

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