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Celebrating women pioneers of dentistry in UK


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Ruby Grace Halliday and Eva Mary Handley were among the first women dentists to join Dental Protection and paved the way for other women dental professionals. (Image: Sotnikov Misha/Shutterstock)

Wed. 11 March 2020


LONDON, UK: International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women throughout history. In recognition of the excellent work that has been done by women in healthcare, Dental Tribune International recently published two interviews highlighting the importance of women having good mentorship in dentistry and pursuing lifelong learning. Additionally, Dental Protection published an article in which it honoured the first women members who entered the organisation for paving the way for other women dentists.

Dental Protection is part of the Medical Protection Society (MPS). According to the company, it currently has over 155,000 female members around the world, a number that represents more than half of their membership.

When first entering the dental profession, women faced many obstacles. Medical and dental schools refused to admit women. Moreover, they had to pass their examinations incognito before being able to officially register. According to Dental Protection, the first female dental professionals only joined the register in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first two women dentists joined the organisation shortly after it was founded in 1892. The organisation was then known as the London and Counties Medical Protection Society.

Ruby Grace Halliday is documented as the first female dentist member of the organisation and joined in 1902. According to MPS, Halliday worked at the Endell Street Military Hospital in London during the First World War. This was the only hospital entirely staffed by suffragists and led by one of the earliest women medical members of the society, Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson, CBE. Just three years later, Eva Mary Handley joined the organisation as the first woman dental surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital. Dental Protection regards the two women as pioneers of women’s dentistry in the UK as they led the way for other female members who wanted to enter the dental profession.

“Although it wasn’t until the turn of the century that women were seen as entering the medical and dental profession officially—and being able to study, register and be remunerated for their work—healthcare began at home and within communities, and caring for the infirm had long been the responsibility of women,” said Dame Jane Dacre, president of the MPS.

According to the British Dental Association, women currently make up nearly half of the National Health Service dentist workforce, and the number continuously rises. However, although women dentists are generally satisfied with their jobs, the association noted that barriers for women dentists still exist, especially regarding women progressing into more senior roles.

“Nowadays, although almost half of healthcare workers are women, we still have structural barriers to overcome in order to improve the access of women to senior positions,” Dacre continued. “It has not been an easy journey, but I am proud of the work of Dental Protection and what the wider MPS does to support the efforts of women—who now account for more than half of our membership,” she concluded.

Editorial note: The first interview, titled “Interview: It is time to rethink and adapt dental education to empower women”, can be found here. The second interview, titled “Interview: 'It’s very important to have female peers and mentors'”, can be found here.

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