By: Beth Francis, District 6 Alumni Chair
Dr. Billie Sue Kyger is a 1983 graduate of The Ohio State College of Dentistry. During her career, she has witnessed many changes in the dentistry, and, as a woman, has had a unique perspective as women gain more of a presence in the profession. She has held many prestigious positions through the years such as ODA president and ADA 7th District Trustee. Please take a look at her journey and be inspired to see the progress we have made in the profession and to know the importance of organized dentistry!
Mentors, Change and Dreams
The year was 1979. For the first time in history, a woman, Margaret Thatcher, was elected Prime Minister in the UK. Jimmy Carter was our US President. The year-end Dow Jones average was 838 and interest rates were 15.25%. A gallon of gas was 86 cents and the average annual income was $17,500. I just finished pharmacy school and worked as a part-time pharmacist for $11.00/hour which was really good money. Pharmacy was now seeing the beginning of their corporate takeover. My mother had passed away when I was 19 and my father retired as a school teacher with an annual salary of $13,500. I was starting dental school at The Ohio State University and did not know how I was going to eventually pay off my student debt. It was an exciting, but very scary time for me.
On that first day of dental school, I was excited, nervous, and determined to fully engage this new adventure. My class had 11% women and very little diversity. We sat in alphabetical order and I quickly made friends that I still cherish today. The academics were difficult, but manageable. My parents had strong work ethics and integrity which I valued and modeled. An organization called The American Student Dental Association (ASDA) gave a presentation in class and I quickly signed up. As a child in a strong political family, I understood the importance of playing a part in the future of our profession and helping to guide our outcomes.
Before long, I was our ASDA Trustee and then the ASDA Vice President. I still remember giving my campaign speech while I struggled with excess saliva due to my metal braces. My father was very proud of my accomplishments in ASDA, but always reminded me to me humble and remember my roots. He said that he would support me in whatever I chose to do, but I must do it well.
In addition to my father, I had another powerful mentor in my dental career. Dr. Ken Clemens, ADA 7th District Trustee, helped me understand the importance of looking beyond my personal microcosm of dentistry. He explained that to be truly effective as a leader, I must understand the big picture of where we are going and why. We must learn to listen to what our colleagues need and anticipate the best pathways to advance our profession.
Time passed quickly and I married a wonderful gentleman and dentist. We had two children who we adored and became involved in their activities and education. I still remained active in the Ohio Dental Association and served on the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs at a young age. I may have been the first woman to serve on that council. I still remember walking into the ADA in Chicago for that first time. To me, that was better than being my high school queen. However, when I walked into the room full of men on the ADA Council, they gave me a very startled look. I don’t think they actually knew what they were getting since my first name is Billie.
In 2002, I became the Ohio Dental Association President. Our state association went through some reorganization at that time and we were moving in a strong new direction. The executive committee was very engaged and we worked together towards some impressive legislative initiatives. The workforce models were beginning to change. Expanded Function Dental Assistants were gaining a strong presence in the dental office and technology was changing at the speed of light. I first heard of an electronic health record and thought that it would not be implemented for another ten or twenty years. In fact, we converted our own office to a full digital record in early 2005.
In 2003, I was asked to serve on the Ohio State Dental Board and ultimately became President. I first found this new responsibility rather difficult. My focus had always been organized dentistry and advancement of the profession. Then, my total focus became protection of the public. This forced me to return to Dr. Clemens mentoring about looking at the whole picture. In reality, serving on the dental board has created balance and a broader perspective in my career. Many of the complaints that we addressed were social in nature. Now, the opioid and heroin addiction have become the deadliest drug epidemic in American history. Dentists have changed their prescribing patterns and become much more aware of patient’s health histories. Workforce issues continue to be a high priority and the ADA is supporting state dental associations who are lobbying to retain optimal patient care by a dentist.
Of course, I had many bumps in the road to leadership. I won some elections and lost some elections. In difficult times, I reached out to my mentors, good friends, and family for guidance. While there were definitely some “tough love” moments and some sleepless nights, I learned from my mistakes, became stronger and even more passionate. Throughout all the years, I remained true to my core values of integrity, hard work and kindness to others.
The year is now 2017. Donald Trump, a non-traditional candidate, was elected as the US President. Barack Obama is the first African American to have served as president, but we have yet to elect a female as president. The stock market is on fire and has hit record highs of 23,500. Average interest rates are about 3.5% and the average annual income is about $55,775. Gasoline is $2.59 a gallon and the current US Healthcare system is badly broken. Dental school classes are now about 50% women and much more diverse. Dentistry is rated by US News and World Report as the Number 1 Profession which did not happen by accident.
Now, as an ADA Trustee, I am constantly trying to learn more, listen more, and move strategic decisions to measureable action. We have been looking within to improve ourselves and our outcomes. Most recently, the Board of Trustees has employed experts in business innovation to develop unique opportunities and additional ways to support our members. New dentists have different wants and needs. They often have student debt of $250,000 and higher and want portability of licensure and a balanced lifestyle. Also, dentistry is more consumer driven and large group practices are growing in popularity. Many dentists are not as busy as they would like to be and the ADA is developing a marketing plan to help patients find an ADA Dentist more efficiently. The challenges are endless and the opportunities are infinite. Change is all around us.
Dentistry has been and continues to be a great profession. Our ADA is the nucleus of the energy. We are watching your back, helping you in every way possible, and guiding your success. To paraphrase several philosophers, do what you love, love what you do, and do it well! This is our Dream and the ADA, the ODA, your local dental society and I are here to help.
Billie Sue Kyger, DDS
ADA 7th District Trustee