When Dr. Bryn Cooper was an orthodontic resident at the Saint Louis University Center for Advanced Dentistry, Dr. Rolf Behrents, editor-in-chief of the AJO-DO, was the chair of the orthodontic program.
“Dr. Behrents asked everyone in our class to write a description of where we wanted to be in five years,” says Dr. Cooper. “I wrote that I wanted to be doing orthodontic clinical work three days a week, with one day for practice-related tasks and one for leadership activities in organized orthodontics.”
Dr. Cooper feels that completing this exercise helped her make a firm commitment to leadership volunteerism while also clarifying what she needed in order to experience career satisfaction.
“I believed that organizational leadership would be rewarding and interesting, and I wanted to make a contribution to the specialty,” she says. “I soon realized the importance of focusing on what you want, rather than what other people may say you should want. By resolving this question early and then modifying your answer later if you want or need to do so, you can avoid a lot of internal conflict.”
A native Texan who completed her undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in biology at Baylor University and her dental degree at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, Dr. Cooper also wanted to return to Texas. Planning to start a family soon after graduating from residency in 2013, she was also eager to own her own practice.
Short-Term and Long-Term Needs Impact Career Decisions
“When I looked into joining practices with the idea of eventual buy-out, my dad, who is an attorney, helped me by reviewing the contract proposals,” she says. “In addition to other concerns, the timing in each case was approximately 10 years for the buy-out and I was not willing to wait that long.”
In the end, Dr. Cooper did two rounds of contract work, having her first two children at the end of each contract. By 2016, she had opened Cooper Orthodontics in Houston and had begun to progress along organizational leadership paths. Active in the Southwestern Society of Orthodontists, she became a SWSO Board member and is the organization’s 2020-21 president.
Networking with current and past leaders, Dr. Cooper got to know fellow SWSO members Dr. Ken Dillehay, current AAO president-elect; Dr. Gayle Glenn, the 2013-14 AAO president and the first woman to serve in that position; and Dr. Vann Greer, who had been the first female speaker of the AAO House of Delegates (2001-03).
“I was excited to meet these leaders and found them very supportive and helpful,” says Dr. Cooper. “Their experiences were interesting to me and I found their insights very valuable.”
New Initiatives Designed to Help Engage Female Members
By 2018, the AAO was forming the Task Force on Women Orthodontists. Dr. Cooper was asked to serve on the task force.
“It was very interesting to step back and look at the overall picture of how we felt the AAO membership experience should look for women,” says Dr. Cooper.
Working with other members of the task force, Dr. Cooper helped initiate a process to bring more women onto the Annual Session Doctors Scientific Program, establish family-friendly amenities at the meeting and develop the Women Orthodontists Networking Session* as an Annual Session event.
“It has been very exciting to help make the Annual Session experience the best it can be for female attendees so that we can build a better meeting for all members with more involvement from female doctors,” she says. “I am very excited about this year’s networking event, which will follow a lecture addressing issues such as unconscious bias.
“I hope many women and men will attend the lecture, given by Joann Lipman and look at ways to maintain positive relationships with colleagues from all demographic groups,” adds Dr. Cooper. “No matter our gender or race, every orthodontist has a different journey with unique challenges. Stepping back and thinking about how we can relate to another person’s story will benefit everyone.”
Continuing to serve on what is now the Special Committee on Women Orthodontists, Dr. Cooper encourages younger female colleagues to seriously consider what they can contribute to leadership within the AAO and other professional organizations.
“One of the big things that I have learned is that while some members of any organization will complain about things that they dislike about it, if you go into leadership it is possible to help drive change,” says Dr. Cooper. “There are always calls for volunteers to help with different initiatives at the component and constituent levels, and sometimes at the national level as well. Don’t hesitate to step up if you are interested in contributing your time and talent.”
Learn about the AAO’s newest initiative to address the needs of our increasingly diverse membership, the Inclusion and Engagement Task Force.
* On Saturday, June 26 during the 2021 Annual Session, join the Special Committee on Women Orthodontists at 8 a.m. for a lecture by Joanne Lipman, “Developing a Healthy, Inclusive Workplace: Process and Measures,” a Featured Lecture in the All Team series. Ms. Lipman is the author of THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them). Following the lecture, from 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., attend the Women Orthodontists Networking Session and Reception. Ms. Lipman will be joining us during the networking session and reception.