Michele Graham's class at VCU School of Dentistry is more women than men. Photo by Isaac Harrell
Ninety years after the first woman graduated from what is now the VCU School of Dentistry, the school's first-year class is poised to become the first to graduate with more women than men.
Tillie Lyons Weinstein, who earned her degree in 1922, was the first documented female graduate. "She was the sister of Harry Lyons, former dean of the MCV School of Dentistry," says Dr. B. Ellen Byrne, senior associate dean with the Office of Academic Affairs. "She practiced in Roanoke until 1934. She took some time off to raise a family and began practicing again in 1952 when she moved to Arlington."
The dental school's class of 2015, which entered the school last August, is the first one to have a majority of female students, says Dr. Michael Healy, associate dean of admissions and international affairs, adding that women make up 55 percent of that class and the incoming class of 2016.
Things have changed significantly since Dr. Kit Sullivan received her degree in 1983. Then, the graduating class of 110 students included just 16 women.
"It was challenging to be one of the few women dentists in 1983," says Sullivan, a senior partner at W. Baxter Perkinson and Associates who has been practicing dentistry for more than 29 years. "I was concerned that no one would want to see a female dentist, and I think Baxter was, too."
Since 2001, the number of women dentists licensed in the United States has gone from 26,870 to 47,814 — a 43 percent increase, Sullivan adds, citing figures from the American Association of Women Dentists.
Michele Graham, a member of the dental school's class of 2015, says that its make-up is "evidence of the equality between men and women in the health-care field." Graham, who was born in Richmond and grew up in Chesapeake, saw firsthand how fulfilling the occupation is by watching her father, a dentist, "enjoy going to work every day and being able to help others."