Prosthodontist Overcomes Gender Barriers to Become ACP President

August 15, 2017
Ed Rabinowitz

In 2016, Susan E. Brackett, D.D.S., M.S., F.A.C.P. became the third woman ever to earn the title of president of the American College of Prosthodontists. As a practicing prosthodontist who has been active in the ACP for several decades, Brackett has been recognized as a philanthropist raised to give back, a philosophy she espouses to aspiring young dentists.

In her journey to become a prosthodontist, Susan Brackett drowned out the voices of naysayers by seeking guidance from supportive faculty and mentors.

Susan Brackett, D.D.S., M.S., F.A.C.P., worked as an assistant for a general dental practice while in high school. The experience piqued her interest in dentistry, and she planned to work toward a career in dental hygiene upon entering college.

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Because, Brackett says, that’s just the way it was in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1971.

“At that time period, women went into hygiene, the guys went into dentistry,” she recalls.

That changed when she began interviewing for hygiene programs and was encouraged to pursue dentistry due to her exceptional grades and test scores.

Brackett’s wheels started turning and carried her on to dental school. Today, in addition to having a successful private prosthodontics practice, she’s the current president of the American College of Prosthodontists.

NO EASY JOURNEY

The decision to pursue a career in dentistry, and specifically prosthodontics, may have been an easy one for Brackett once she put things in motion, but her parents were not initially thrilled with her decision. Raised during the Great Depression, they believed that a college education was very important, but did not view dentistry as an appropriate career for a woman.

“As I matured, I realized they weren’t being mean,” Brackett recalls. “It was just their frame of reference, and they just wanted the best for me.”

Undeterred, Brackett attended the newly opened dental school at the University of Oklahoma, and with the assistance of loans and scholarships, supported herself through the endeavor. But as the only women in her class, she often found herself the subject of ridicule.

“But I made it through,” she says.

She also developed a relationship with the department chair, Herbert T. Shillingburg, Jr., D.D.S., whose textbook, Fundamentals of Fixed Prosthodontics, was a mainstay in a large number of dental schools.

“He was quite intimidating,” Brackett says. “But somehow through the course of my dental school career, we developed a relationship where he became more of a mentor. Ultimately, after I graduated, I ended up working for him, and he was the one who encouraged me to go back and get my graduate training in prosthodontics.”

CHANGING TIMES

Brackett has focused much of her career on education and encouraging young dentists to pursue advanced training to become dental specialists. She attributes some of this focus to the difficult relationship she had in dental school with her fellow classmates. Those challenges prompted her to find solace and inspiration from faculty who provided encouragement.

“I think — not only from that influence of faculty, but also that I was having a difficult time — I was hoping that by teaching I could help influence young people’s lives,” she says.

Along the way, Brackett co-authored an award-winning textbook, Fundamentals of Tooth Preparation, with her mentor Dr. Shillingburg, and she’s seen a significant change where women and careers in dentistry are concerned.

“Now, when a young woman says she wants to be a dentist or a prosthodontist, people don’t say, ‘Why?’” Brackett explains. “They say, ‘Why not?’ These young women are bright, attractive and no one’s holding them back.”

Brackett says she and a prosthodontist colleague and friend of 30 years often gauge the gender-related changes in the industry when they attend conferences by seeing how long the lines for the women’s restrooms are during breaks.

“You used to be able to walk right in,” she laughs.

GIVING BACK

Brackett has been a dedicated leader to the ACP throughout her career. She was director of the Public Relations and Communications Division on the ACP Board for six years, and served as ACP secretary and as a member of the ACP Education Foundation Board for nearly 10 years. She was installed as vice president of the organization in 2014 and rose to her current position as president in 2016.

She credits much of that give-back mindset to another prosthodontist, Thomas McGarry, D.D.S., with whom she still practices at Oklahoma City-based Implant & Prosthodontic Associates.

“He’s the one who instilled in me that it’s important to give back, particularly to a profession that has treated you well,” Brackett says. “When I joined him in practice, he was leading up that chain to be president of the ACP. It worked out well that I was able to help cover his office and his patients while he was traveling and spending so much time working for the college,” Brackett added.

Brackett also does charity work outside the field of dentistry. She and her husband are both active in giving time to organizations that reflect their passions. For Brackett, one of those passions is ballet and dance. It started when a friend in college encouraged her to take a ballet class.

“It was a nice break from dentistry,” she says. “I was never any good at ballet, but it gave me an appreciation for the art form that I never would have had if I hadn’t tried it myself.”

Today, Brackett is not only involved with the University of Oklahoma School of Dance, but also a member of the board for the Oklahoma City Ballet.

ENCOURAGING OTHERS

For practitioners looking to become more active in their professional organizations, Brackett recommends starting with the state or local chapter in order to learn what’s happening at the national level.

“For the American College of Prosthodontists, we have a great public relations opportunity every year in April,” Brackett says. “It’s a whole week that's called National Prosthodontics Awareness Week, and our staff has put together a great packet on things that you might be able to do to increase your community’s exposure to the specialty of prosthodontics.”

As for personal and professional fulfillment, Brackett maintains her support for continuing education.

“One of the hardest things for me to achieve was also one of my greatest accomplishments,” she says. “Becoming board-certified.”

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