Posted December 6, 2023

Dental professor studies gender parity at U.S. dental schools

As an American Dental Education Association Enid A. Neidle Scholar-in-residence Program awardee, Kelly Holst is researching why women are underrepresented as deans at U.S. dental schools.

Kelly Holst smiling
Photography By: 
Ryan S. Brandenberg
Kelly Holst is an ADEA Enid A. Neidle Scholar-in-residence Program awardee.

Kelly Holst, DEN ’18, EDU ’23, is delving into the reasons why women are underrepresented as deans of U.S. dental schools. As part of her research, Holst is interviewing current and former women deans to learn about their pathway to advancement, changes they have observed in academia and receive recommendations on how dental academic institutions can achieve equity in leadership positions.

Holst started her research project after becoming the first Temple University professor to receive the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Enid A. Neidle Scholar-in-residence Program award in March. Holst has received a $15,000 stipend from ADEA to engage in a fellowship that consists of visits to ADEA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and time to pursue research, networking and leadership development opportunities.

“Being involved with this fellowship puts me in a place where I can have access to a variety of different women, meet with them and understand their experience and how this will inform my project,” said Holst, assistant professor of restorative dentistry at the Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry.

Holst was motivated to delve into this topic after reading a 2021 study published in the Journal of Dental Education that found that the ratio of men to women serving as dental school deans was 5-to-1. “This 5-1 statistic was surprising to me for how few women were serving as deans of dental schools, meanwhile we have more women than ever entering the field,” Holst said.

The American Dental Association Health Policy Institute notes that women made up 56% of first-year dental students in 2021—the highest rate ever. According to Holst, there are currently 21 women serving as deans, while there are 71 dental schools in the U.S.

Holst did not initially plan to work in academia. She had aspired to go into private practice after graduating from Kornberg in 2018. But when Dean Amid Ismail announced that the school was hiring junior faculty members from her class, her friend encouraged Holst to apply. Holst applied and was then hired as a faculty member, quickly realizing she felt at home in the academic environment. She went on to pursue a master’s degree from Temple’s College of Education and Human Development and graduated in May 2023.

“I truly don’t think I could have done it without Temple,” Holst said, “They offered me my first job in academia, and I have two advanced degrees from Temple now so it’s definitely a great place to start my career.”