Interview with a Mommy Dentist

Grace Yum
Dr. Grace Yum

With more and more women graduating from dental schools in the US, we can expect to see more changes in our profession to include those women who are also mothers. Dr. Grace Yum, a pediatric dentist in Chicago and mommy of two began a simple Facebook group to help bring these women together. She also hosts a podcast and has published two books, which all highlight the struggles and celebrate the triumphs of “Mommy Dentists in Business.” She agreed to share some of her thoughts with our editor.

You are the founder of Mommy Dentists in Business. Tell me about your family, your business, and the pathway to getting there. In what order did you earn each of these titles of “mommy,” dentist, and business owner.

My first accomplishment was to graduate from dental school and then do two more years of pediatric training, so my career launched before I became a mother or business owner. I practiced as an associate for four years and then opened up my own practice. After that, everything else fell into place. I got married and had kids. The mommy part came last. I became a mom in 2012.

When you started this group, what were you personally looking to gain from connecting these people together?

The mommy dentist group has quickly grown in two years. I started it in 2017.

I started it for fun to catch up and keep in touch with my friends and colleagues. It was just a small circle. My intent was to make it a support group for all of us to help juggle so many things. People started asking, “Can I add my friend? She can really use the support.” Now, there are more than 6,000 members, there is a UK/Canada chapter as well as regional chapters.

I allow associates in the group because many of them owned a business first and now are associates or there are people who are in the process of buying in now. There are also community clinic directors who are running a business or doctors running a business as locum tenens. It is not just owners of dental practices. The concept of “dental business” has taken on so much more than what I thought it means. The doctors in my group are running so many different businesses alongside their role as mothers.

“I am amazed at how many specialists and GPs are practice owners that are doing such incredible things. There are women who are in organized dentistry, there are women who have seven practices (like a mini DSO), and there are some that have a small three chair practice and are just killing it!”

Tell me about some of the standout people you have met with or spoken to within your group and what particularly about them impressed you.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would meet so many wonderful people. I am amazed at how many specialists and GPs are practice owners that are doing such incredible things. There are women who are in organized dentistry, there are women who have seven practices (like a mini DSO), and there are some that have a small three chair practice and are just killing it! There are so many who are fantastic and inspirational. It is particularly honorable to have Dr. Maxine Feinberg as a member. She is the first woman president of the ADA and it is just wonderful to have her contributing to our tightknit community.

In talking to the female dentists of your group, what have you found to be the most supportive and helpful thing another woman can do to support a mommy dentist business owner?

Women empowering other women, simply this. Sympathy and empathy are very powerful especially if you are walking in their shoes. It’s not like you’re talking to a college girlfriend who works for JP Morgan as an investment banker. The affirmation, whether positive or negative is invaluable when it comes from someone who can truly relate.

What have you found the women of your group to site as the most supportive and helpful thing a man can do to support a mommy dentist business owner?

If the man is a dentist, it seems that what the women in our group find most valuable is in the form of mentorship.

What makes the business of dentistry different for mommy business owners versus any other industry?

I haven’t worked in any other industries, but I think it’s probably very similar. If you’re a mom and you’re working, you share the same calendaring struggle, mommy guilt, and sharing of responsibilities in your family.

Where in career progression do you think is the biggest obstacle to practice ownership for women in dentistry?

Every situation is different. I think it would be very difficult to be pregnant or having your first child and starting your first practice for the first time without any support (without husband or family members to help). Especially when you are newly pregnant and don’t know how the pregnancy will progress. This is particularly true regarding maternity leave as a business owner. Some women come back to their office two days after having a baby.

You have multiple associates, male and female. Do you find that the expectations of your associates differed between them when it came to scheduling accommodations related to family or maternity/paternity leave?

There hasn’t been a difference in their expectations with scheduling. I have three male doctors of which two have children. None of the male doctors asked about paternity leave. With the women, we did accommodate maternity leave of three months, but almost all of them were ready to come back sooner.

You were a business owner first, and then a mom. If I’m a new mom, and a dentist but not yet a business owner, what is something I can do tomorrow that will enhance my career toward ownership?

Just be astute in the office where you are working. Learn the front desk. The front desk is a mystery to many doctors. There are so many moving parts and so much you have to learn about running a business. The best thing to do as an associate is to start there.

With the changing demographics of graduating dental classes consisting of more women in general, what related changes do you expect to see in the future of dentistry?

I think that more and more women will be business owners and what I think is going to happen and is already happening is more DSOs are going to come into play and not go away. I think that women who want to own and run businesses are going to be competing with DSOs along with everyone else.