When Dr. Donna Thompson entered dental school in the fall of 1974, she was one of five women in her class of 71 students at the Creighton University School of Dentistry in Omaha.
She and her female classmates bonded over breaking the glass ceiling but said it could be intimidating at times.
“We had a mixed reception from fellow male classmates and our faculty,” Dr. Thompson, 63, recalled. “Some of the men respected us, but many others questioned why we were there. We often felt like we had to go above and beyond to prove ourselves each day, to prove that we were capable of doing a man’s job, so to speak. In the end, the challenge was well worth it.”
Contrast that to when her daughter, Jennifer, entered dental school at the Univ ersity of North Carolina School of Dentistry in 2004. Thirty years later, being female was a nonissue. In fact, Dr. Jennifer Thompson said she bar ely thought about it .
“I never felt I was being seen as a female or a male; I was just a dental student,” said Dr. Jennifer Thompson, 35.
After Dr. Thompson graduated in 2008, she joined her mom’s practice in Farmington, New Mexico. Together, the two doctors run a five-operatory practice that sees about 500 patients a month.
At first, she envisioned working with her mother for a year or so as she go t her feet wet in the day-to-day life as a general dentist. Nine years later, she can’t imagine not working
“We are so lucky to be able to function as a team with a wonderful equilibrium between us,” she said. “ What I have seen over the past [nine] years is small compared to the 39 years she has been in practice.”
Said Dr. Donna Thompson about working with her daughter, “She has reinvigorated both me and the practice. She not only brought a fresh perspective with updated materials and new technology, but she also generated a new way of thinking and managing the practice. There is nothing like a fresh set of eyes to open your mind to new ideas.”
One of those newer changes was modernizing the office.
“Our practice started embracing digital dentistry when Jennifer joined,” her mother said. “We updated our radiographs and computer systems and continue to make the transformation over time.”
When asked how she feels she influences her mom, Dr. Jennifer Thompson said she thinks she helps remind her about the impact dentists can have on the world.
“We as dentists have the ability to touch the lives of individual patients on a daily basis, but we also can improve the community through events like Mission of Mercy and Give Kids A Smile,” said the younger Dr. Thompson. “We can serve as an agent of change through advocacy, volunteerism and community leadership.”
Dr. Jennifer Thompson’s involvement with organized dentistry — she’s the vice president-elect of the New Mexico Dental Association — has also had an impact on her mom.
“She has inspired me to become involved again,” Dr. Donna Thompson said.
Unlike the Thompsons, Dr. Nipa Thakkar and her father, Dr. Ramesh Thakkar, have no plans to practice together.
The elder Dr. Thakkar owns and operates two general dentistry practices in Queens, New York. Dr. Nipa Thakkar currently works as an associate in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, although she is planning to buy a practice in the next year.
When she was a student at the Temple University-Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry, Dr. Thakkar said her dad marveled at her course load and the scope of what she was learning.
“He was impressed with how in-depth the learning was after my first year of dental school and said it took him years to reach that level of understanding.”
During her father’s early years practicing dentistry, some dentists were still practicing without gloves, a fact that amazes his daughter.
“He thinks I am fussy because I complain about certain gloves not fitting right ,” Dr. Nipa laughed. “He was like, ‘We didn’t even have gloves when I started, and you’re fussing over how the gloves fit.’”
“Practicing dentistry is always changing with advancements and research,” Dr. Ramesh Thakkar said. “New inventions, new technology and new material make you feel like in 28 years you have experienced totally new phases of dentistry. Even now as I take continuing education courses provided by local and state organizations, the profession changes
and I feel changed too.”
After immigrating to New York from India in the 1970s, the senior Dr. Thakkar took out loans and worked parttime jobs to support his international doctorate at the New York University College of Dentistry.
“It was very hard work with student debt and two young children, and we had language barriers and economic hardships for years,” he recalled.
He opened his firs t practice in 1989 and worked hard to ensure both Nipa and her brother, a physician, never had to pay for school themselves.
“It’s a huge gift,” Dr. Nipa Thakkar said. “It’s how I’ve been able to practice however I want.”
“I am very happy that Nipa followed in my footsteps in dentistry, as she has very good hands in art and science,” said Dr. Ramesh Thakkar. “She has explored dentistry and made it her own. I am too proud to explain how she fulfilled not only my dreams but also her lat e grandfather’s dreams, at the same time being true to herself.”