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Chatter: An Interview with Dr. Virginia Crose
The IDA's Indiana Dentist newsletter randomly selects a member to interview about a variety of questions, ranging from practice advice to favorite hobbies. For the August issue we chatted with Dr. Virginia Crose, a retired IDA member from Zionsville, who helped pioneer Indiana dentistry for women.
You began dental school in a time when dentistry was dominated by men. What challenges did you face during that time?
VC: The challenges started the first day of class at Northwestern University School of Dentistry. Dental anatomy lab literally “began with a bang,” as our instructor came over to my desk and threw my purse on the floor. I quickly learned to keep my purse on the floor. The next day, he requested I come to the front of the lab where he reached for his nail clippers and promptly cut off my manicured long fingernails. His order was “no long nails in this class,” to which I replied, “No sir, thank you sir!” He was a Navy Commander, as was my father. I was used to dealing with military discipline, so I wasn’t entirely out of my realm. I worked hard and gained the respect of my classmates, and ultimately his.
If dental school was that challenging for women, what was it like to start practicing during that same time?
VC: When I first started in practice, few women were in the profession. In fact I was the first woman accepted into the James Whitcomb Riley Pedodontic Residency Program. Being in debt, having no credit rating (i.e. before charge cards), and no credit histories being on file for female dentists made it impossible to borrow money to start a practice. Associateships and group practices were almost non-existent, so finding employment was a daunting task. Since I was married, the first question at each interview was, “What are you going to do if you get pregnant?” Building referrals was also an uphill battle, but eventually my male colleagues started to take me seriously, gained confidence in my skills, appreciated the treatment their patients received and realized I was in for the long haul. Eight years later, financing became available, and I started my own practice. Not all was gloom and doom. During those years I learned valuable things and gained priceless experience about how to manage a practice wisely and efficiently. I also found that being a woman in pediatric dentistry had its advantages. The mothers, who were the ones bringing the children to my office, seemed to enjoy relating to me, especially after I also became a mother. Communication was easier; children seemed less fearful, and my patient referrals flourished.
Was it harder to start a practice as a woman in dentistry?
VC: Being in debt, having no credit rating, and there being no credit histories on female dentists, it was impossible to borrow money to start a practice. Associateships and group practices were almost non-existent, so finding employment was a daunting task. Since I was already married, the first question at each interview was “What are you going to do if you get pregnant and quit?” Building referrals was also an uphill battle, but eventually my male colleagues started to take me seriously, gained confidence in my skills, appreciated the treatment their patients received and realized I was in for the long haul. Eight years later, financing became available, and I started my own practice.
What do you do for fun during retirement?
VC: My husband and I have made a game of looking for bargains and then bragging about our savings. We love our “senior” discounts and now have the time to attend cheaper movie matinees. We combine our errands to save gas and use our library more. It’s all fun, but it is serious fun. I also love our leisurely morning talks over coffee and tea. We both enjoy traveling and are working hard on our “bucket lists.” Then there is a new little man in our lives, our grandson, whom we are experiencing together. What joy!
How did you know when to retire?
VC: Ten years ago, after having a detached retina, I realized my team needed long-term job security, and the patients deserved continuity in healthcare. After two years of discussion and planning, Dr. Erin Phillips joined our staff. Unlike most practice transitions, our process involved one attorney who represented both of us fairly. We created a contract that eventually allowed her to purchase the practice and have me continue as an associate for as long as we both were happy with me around.
What do you believe dentists have the hardest time with when considering retirement?
VC: I believe the main challenge to retiring doctors at this time is developing a retirement budget that takes into consideration prolonged low interest rates on savings, poor real estate returns and stagnant sales, increasing property taxes, increased cost of living, plus anticipated higher taxes (i.e. capital gains and new investment/dividend taxes).
Looking back, are you glad you chose to go into dentistry?
VC: My goal in life was never to be rich, but to have enough resources to have a safe home for our family, to be able to send the kids to college, and to retire with some security. I thank dentistry for enabling this. It is a wonderful profession that allowed me to meet many caring and interesting people. I encourage all dentists to be active in their local dental societies and the IDA. It has a priceless effect on your practice and your life.
What advice do you feel is timeless for colleagues of any age?
VC: My timeless advice to colleagues is to pace yourself. It pays off in the long run, both mentally and physically. After I had children, I decided to work three 10-hour days per week, allowing me to be home with the kids the remaining four. My staff loved the schedule, as many of them also had preschoolers. The employees who needed a 40-hour week came in on non-patient days to answer the phones, attend to the mail, post checks, send statements, confirm patients, file and pull charts, attend to insurance needs, super-clean the autoclaves and restock. The three clinical days were all about production, and everyone geared up for it. I never regretted my time at home. We may have had a higher lifestyle with a five-day week, but at what cost? I never got burned out or tired of dentistry. I was able to continue enjoying practice for longer than I ever planned, right up to the last patient. It all balanced out.
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