When asked how many days I work, my response historically has been, "I only work three days a week." The most common reaction to this, especially from male colleagues, is, "Why are you only working part time? You went to school, received all of that education. ..."
Well, am I truly working part time?
The last time I said I "only" worked three days a week was about four years ago. I had visited the Pankey Institute, and we were all discussing our current practicing situation. An esteemed colleague and instructor at the time responded, "Why do you say you 'only' work three days? If a man says, 'I am working three days,' everyone crowds around him, pounds him on the back, and says, 'Wow, what a great schedule. I wish I could do that.' But if a woman says the same thing, the typical response is, 'Why aren't you working full time?' "
Double standard? You bet!
Think about it. As dentists we, for the most part, get to set our own practice schedule, especially if we own the practice. We choose which days and hours we want to practice. We choose how long we feel is the "right" amount of time to spend with our patients. We determine this by evaluating our short- and long-term goals as per the vision of the practice.
So why should women be asked why they work the number of hours they do, but not men?
I am not saying all women work less than the Department of Labor's actual definition of full time (37.5 hours per week). I am sure many work more than those hours, and I know some who work six days a week. Others work partial days but may total more than those hours.
But if I, or one of my male counterparts, decide to work three days and have other things in my life, who should be the judge? It amazes me that anyone would consider commenting on the number of days or hours professionals will spend in their field, and that the need for commentary happens more frequently for women practitioners than men.
My current schedule does consist of three days. It is full time for me. It has always been my concept of full time. I have taught in both dental and dental hygiene programs, worked in the dental insurance industry, and also been an editor for a woman's dental journal. Aside from the professional side of my life, I raised two amazing children and wanted to have the time and flexibility to be around if they needed their mom.
These days I work the number of hours I want to in a profession I love. I do other things in my spare time, like serve as a police commissioner. I have other interests including my attempt to keep physically fit and care for my father. But these things do not diminish the time, attention, or professional expertise I give to my practice and patients.
So now when anyone asks me, "How much do you work?" my response is, "I work three days a week -- full time, for me." I do not feel the need to justify my hours. If it works for me, that is all that matters.
Because after all, if you aren't making yourself happy, who will?
Sheri Doniger, D.D.S., practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She has served as an educator in several dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefit company, and has written for several dental publications. Most recently, she was the editor of Woman Dentist Journal and Woman Dentist eJournal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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