My name is Tara Levesque-Vogel and I’m a dentist. I’m also a mom, a wife, a daughter, a business owner, an athlete, a President of a state dental board, and an aspiring work-life balancer. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t go around talking about the balance thing often, but I am comfortable mentioning it here for one simple reason––all of us women in dentistry are balancers, aren’t we?
And while we are balancers and most certainly have always been, it’s fair to say I haven’t always been able to balance well. In fact, there were times along the way to this wonderful space I now inhabit where I was filled with doubt. Did I really want to follow in my father’s footsteps? Was dentistry my passion? Was I cut out for what was still a male-dominated profession in New Hampshire? Could I balance working a practice with marriage and motherhood?
I’ll never forget how Dad approached me to discuss possible careers. “I want you to do whatever you want and whatever makes you happy,” he said. In fact, he actually said, “Don’t be a dentist!” When my father was younger, his father, a dentist in the same town where I practice, told him he was going to be the next dentist in the family. Sure enough, he went on to become a dentist, and even though he was successful, I knew it was never his passion. He wanted me to find my passion. But what the heck was my passion and how did I go about finding it?
At first, the answer was definitely not to follow in Dad’s footsteps. Instead, I went to art school for Interior Design at Endicott College. Have you ever seen the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright? There’s a simplicity to his designs and they’re in harmony with nature and organic. To this day, they move me. At the time, Endicott was an all women’s college which in itself gave me a different perspective. The idea was that women learn differently when you remove the young men from the classes. In short, they learn how to lead, and they learn that they have an incredible amount to offer the world, even if it is male-dominated. I really began to advance for the first time in my life and it felt extraordinary. My last year at that college I received the President’s Award, and I think the award and the overall experience amongst so many fine women paved the way for the rest of my career.
That’s why it surprised everyone when I decided to change my career to become a dental hygienist…and then, yes, a dentist. I was worried my art school degree was a waste and that I was taking a risky leap of faith, but I had to follow my intuition. Soon after enrolling in dental hygiene school, I realized I was passionate about the human body and the physiology of it. I knew right away that I should go to dental school…the fire was lit and I knew I could take my artistic abilities (see, art school is never a waste) and make something great out of it. Without an artist’s eye, dentists can struggle to perfect their craft, even if they are smart and well-educated.
After hygiene school, I worked as a hygienist during the day and went to school at night to finish up my prerequisites. That wasn’t easy but my philosophy has always been that you sacrifice to get ahead. There were many people along my path that discouraged me and said I would never be able to accomplish my goal. Women in dentistry were not the norm at the time, and while none of the feedback I received was explicitly prejudicial, I was sure bias played a role. I guess sometimes you just know when something is true.
I was married right before dental school started. I was six months pregnant when I received my diploma. There is nothing like starting a career and figuring out motherhood at the same time! But I did. Two years later I had my second baby boy. Being a mother and running a dental business wasn’t easy, but with the support of my husband and parents, and with a ton of work, I pulled it off. I am so thankful for my wonderful sons. They are two of the loves of my life.
When I became a dentist, my father was so proud of me. I think following in his profession gave him a new spark in dentistry. Of course, he would have been proud of anything I chose to do, but to join him as a woman in dentistry was special to both of us. At the time, there weren’t too many women in dentistry and even to this day, I occasionally find myself as one of a few women dentists in forums dominated by men.
I’ve been out of dental school now for over 15 years. I practiced dentistry with my father for many years until his retirement and I currently own a dental office with my younger brother. This year has really been a turning point for me in dentistry. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to the wonderful consultant group, Jameson Management. My brother and I had felt our dental office had become stagnant and we needed to make some changes. Jameson not only looked at our operations but also had us look at ourselves. They taught us to really listen to our employees and our patients in order to have a healthy work environment. Appreciation has to come from within and be genuine. When that happens, the people around will flourish as well. This has changed me and my approach to everything I do for the better.
I look back now on the path of how I ended up in my career and I feel so grateful for all the decisions I made to get here. Many of the decisions were risky but I’ve come out a better person and I’ve learned that if you love what you do, it makes getting out of bed and going to work special. Each day I strive to do a little better, not only at work but in my whole life. I want to become more and more skilled at what I do. I want to affect more and more lives in a positive way. I want to work in ways that are not only productive but kind and compassionate. And yes, I want to continue to develop my work-life balance skills. If any of you have advice in that area, I would love to hear it.