How one UofL dental alumna helped break the school’s gender mold in the 1970s

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By Julie Heflin

Looking at the UofL School of Dentistry today, you’ll see an equal mix of men and women, but that hasn’t always been the case. In the late 1970s, nearly all dental students and faculty were male.

P. Gay Baughman ’81 recalls how she and other women were treated differently than male students. 

“I’d be the only female taking a particular oral exam, and the professor would ask me all the questions,” she said. “I dealt with what seemed like unfairness by changing my personality. I became very quiet, because if you became small maybe they wouldn’t notice you as much.”  

Upon graduation, Baughman said she found her voice again as a business owner, setting up a dental practice in Louisville’s Fairdale community and, as someone who loves learning, participating in numerous continuing education courses. Throughout her career, Baughman found support through the Kentucky Association of Women Dentists.  

“My son was born in 1986. I had no family nearby and my husband traveled. Through this organization, we would share with one another about how to manage the challenges of being both a dental professional and a mother,” she said. “Women carry the weight and responsibilities of parenthood differently than men. Even among dental students who become parents while in school, it is more difficult for women.”  

After 28 successful years in private practice, Baughman joined the School of Dentistry faculty in 2007, determined to give female dental students a better experience than her own. Baughman has helped female students gain a sense of belonging in part by launching a student chapter of the American Association for Women Dentists (AAWD)

Third-year dental student Nikki Sanders is president of UofL’s AAWD chapter. 

“I have always been a huge advocate of women supporting women,” Sanders said. “We provide an outlet for discussions about the gender disparities that still exist in our profession, advocate for more equality for all women and take part in efforts to support women outside the profession through outreach, including clothing drives for the Center for Women and Families.” 

Sanders says she’s grateful for the lifelong friends in AAWD and for Baughman, whom she considers a mentor. In return, Baughman hopes female dental students now have an easier path forward and she is glad to be a part of their lives. 

“I get up every day and say ‘I’m going to dental school!’ – I love these kids,” she said. “I hope I am half as good for them as they are for me.” 

Read on UofLNews.com here.