Women Leaders in Group Dentistry

Three entrepreneurial leaders share their journeys as women in the industry, how they support each other in leadership roles, and where they see the future of dental headed.

As the daughter of a dental assistant, Dr. Maja Martin grew up immersed in the field of dentistry. 

Dr. Lori Noga didn’t. She began her professional career as an actuary prior to becoming a dentist. 

Camie Worley initially pursued a career as an ER nurse before finding her way into dentistry. 

Three successful leaders, with three very different paths into dentistry.

In a recent interview with DEO Coach Amber Nish, these three dynamic women leaders shared their unique paths toward success and career fulfillment, as well as how each of them aims to bring understanding, support, development, and excitement around the many paths available to women in dentistry. 

The journey to now

For Dr. Noga, numbers crunching wasn’t enough. She realized early in her career as an actuary that she was most passionate about people and their development, which is why she made the switch to dentistry. Her first dental practice out of school consisted of just her and two employees. She discovered at that time that she loved assisting people with their professional goals, sparking her interest in continuing to grow and scale her dental business. 

Dr. Martin’s mother was a dental assistant in Serbia, where students can choose a dental assistantship focus in nursing school. Dr. Martin would follow in her mother’s footsteps, graduating from UNC’s dental school in 2002, and starting her own solo practice right away. As the practice grew, she added the first associate in 2013, and then more associates from there. “I was fortunate enough to grow my solo practice over 10 years,” said Dr. Martin. “I love to learn, and I feel like dental industry leadership is the natural progression of the learning process, and I was grateful for the opportunity to share with others all that I’ve experienced.”

Worley had always been interested in assisting patients. She started out in school pursuing a career as an ER nurse. While in school, her hometown family dentist encouraged her to take a job as a dental assistant to help pay for medical school. From the experience, Worley fell in love with the job, and felt confident in her place within the clinical side of dentistry. 

Even if an individual’s career didn’t begin in the dental industry, it is more than possible to become a successful dental leader. Each of these women’s early experiences can serve as a guide for others who are aspiring to enter the industry. 

Finding personal-professional balance

As a career for a female dentist or leader progresses, navigating children, being married or in a relationship, and other life events, all while launching and leading practices, can be a challenge to manage all at once. Finding personal and professional balance throughout one’s career is key to becoming a successful leader.

“Work-life balance is an equilibrium. With an equilibrium, you must give and take to create a flow between the different facets you want to achieve,” said Dr. Noga. “Ask yourself what requires more of your time at that exact moment, and what may have to go on hold or be taken away from other areas of life. Then, it is more of a personal decision – think about whether what you are going to gain on either side is worth the sacrifice. And if it’s not, then the equilibrium shifts back the other way.” 

Balance can be looked at as a series of shifting seasons. At times, an individual must focus more on family, and other times, the focus needs to be within the workplace. Balance does not mean that everything always stays the same; instead, it means shifting responsibilities so that work and life are manageable.

“We may not always find balance per se, but we can find a healthy space to operate in. If the focus is teetering too far one way or the other, we need to look and say we need to shift our focus a bit,” said Worley.

“Balance means knowing yourself and doing what’s right for you personally. There isn’t a right answer,” said Dr. Martin. “We do our best at work and in our personal lives every day, and we must work on not feeling guilty if we are trying our best. On any given day, you may have to give more to work or more to your family/personal life.”

Navigating industry changes

The working world has undergone significant changes. The new, modern workforce has nuanced and dynamic expectations. Dental employees are now demanding more work-life balance, flexible scheduling, mental health support, benefits, and more.

“We as employers now have to help employees create a mental health balance, helping them to be happy and feel safe and warranted at work,” said Worley. “It comes down to leaders engaging in more coaching, more communication, having clear communication with teams, and connecting with employees personally. You can’t leave your baggage at the door and separate work and life anymore. It is all one life space.”

At times, it can be difficult to separate work from life due to technological advancements — there are so many ways to connect to work while being at home, whether it’s through a phone, tablet, or computer. 

To best support employees, leaders must find a balance between modern expectations and work needs. In dental, working from home is often not possible, but leaders can consider looking at different times and schedules for employee shifts to make them more flexible. Leaders should be clear in their communication, ensuring that employees are working in the best interest of their home life while still meeting workplace expectations.

“Try to find employees that are really passionate about what they do, embrace diversity in the workplace, give employees an opportunity to do what they are passionate about,” said Dr. Martin. “Those people will likely fall into being a good fit for your organization’s culture, values, and goals.”

According to Nish, dental leaders should create systems around their employees’ needs, training them adequately on tactical aspects of the business. This is often an easier investment to make than trying to change someone’s mindset or culture. Be upfront with prospective employees as early as in the hiring process, making sure that you’ve identified the required skill sets. Then, the right people will find the organization.

Women in mentorship 

Women in the dental industry who have experienced and accomplished much are invaluable as resources to assist other women in guiding them toward success in their own career journey. Mentorship allows a space where women are both guided and supported professionally.

“I recall when I first started in the industry, there were certain individuals that I looked up to and sought out for advice. I wanted to understand how they navigated certain aspects of the job,” said Dr. Noga. “As you evolve as a leader and business owner, the people that you go to for guidance evolve too. It’s a constantly changing landscape. The key to a mentor relationship is knowing where you want to be and who you want to become. Trusted leaders can help you get there.” 

Seek out mentorship in each phase of a dental career. Even seasoned leaders can use guidance on how to improve and succeed. 

“There is power in being able to coach others into success. I always had a drive to be the best I could be, so I learned from managers and also mutually supported them,” said Worley. “Viewing those that work for you as peers – instead of solely as people you supervise – allows a space in the workplace where everyone can work together, bounce ideas off one another, and learn so much.” 

Everyone can be a mentor, and anyone can be mentored. Having humility and eagerness to learn allows for growth professionally. Mentorship is the willingness to share and elevate everyone, and it can significantly help other women in the industry win and enter leadership positions. There is room for everyone at the table within dental leadership.

Mentors and leaders can especially assist younger generations, and individuals from diverse professional backgrounds, to pursue a career in dental.

“I would give the advice of younger generations to find the people who want to do what you want to do, learn from them, and be passionate about new careers every day,” said Dr. Martin.

“The dental field evolves rapidly. There is a huge opportunity in pursuing this career with constant evolvement. Anyone who has an abundant mindset can seize opportunity and grow in this industry,” said Dr. Noga.

A career in dentistry is a constantly evolving professional journey. Having an open mindset allows for success, passion, and growth in the dental field.

“I would give those interested in a dental leadership career the advice of never giving up,” said Worley. “Learn all that you can in the position that you are in, and remember that when a door closes, another door opens. You never know what direction your life is going to take, and opportunities will present themselves in dentistry if you are open to and actively seeking them,” said Worley.

Meet the Leaders

Amber Nish, Coach, DEO

Amber is the newest coach on the DEO team, bringing a wealth of marketing knowledge to the community. She is a 10-year veteran in the dental marketing space.

Most of her career was spent at Community Dental Partners where she started as an onsite location manager and was promoted to Chief Marketing Officer, serving over 70 locations and multiple brands. One of her most transformative roles was serving as the Call Center Director and gaining a deep understanding of lead conversion and practice needs.

Lori Noga, DMD, Founder & CEO, Tranquility Dental Wellness Center

Dr. Lori Noga founded Tranquility Dental Wellness Center in 2012 where she set out to break the mold of traditional dentistry. Her concept of “Experience Affordable Luxury” began with a vision to take the fear out of dentistry by removing barriers that patients experience, and offering a luxurious, spa-like atmosphere and a team of amazing employees who deliver a five-star experience every time.

Before opening TDWC, Dr. Noga began her journey not as a dentist, but as an actuary. It didn’t take long for her to realize her passion was not limited to statistical models and spreadsheets; it was more so about empowering others to put their fears aside and reach for opportunity. 

She left her actuarial job and attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine where she earned her Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) in 2007. After completing dental school, Dr. Noga served as an active-duty officer in the US Navy and worked alongside the US Marine Corps in Camp Lejeune, NC. She enjoyed the vast experience she gained in the military and is proud to have served alongside the brave men and women who sacrifice so much in serving our nation. After her time with the Navy, she relocated to Washington state with her husband and opened Tranquility Dental Wellness Center.

Maja Martin, DDS, Co-Founder & Chief Dental Officer, Village Dental

Dr. Martin is the co-owner and Chief Dental Officer of Village Dental in North Carolina, a group dental practice with a focus on sedation dentistry. Village Dental has four locations and 120+ team members.

Dr. Martin considers herself a dentist whisperer. “I am the Chief Dental Officer for four practices in North Carolina, and my focus is on training dentists and making them feel comfortable in the workplace.” 

Dr. Martin came to the United States as part of a student exchange program in 1991 and stayed to play basketball at the University of North Carolina (UNC) from 1992 to 1996. She is a 2002 graduate of the UNC Adams School of Dentistry and a member of the 1994 University of North Carolina Women’s National Championship Basketball team.

Camie Worley, Operations Coach, DEO

With more than 25 years of experience in the dental field, Worley has developed skills and expertise in all aspects of dental operations. Beginning her journey as a dental assistant, Worley quickly grew a passion for operations, holding positions of Clinical Manager, Practice and Regional Manager, and Director of Operations for a large nationwide Mobile DSO. 

Worley has helped grow a mobile dental clinic from 5 to 35 mobile clinics, and from seven standalone clinics up to 22 operatories. “I’ve learned a lot in my career, having had the opportunity to grow my own and others’ leadership skills, and I’m so excited to continue helping others grow in my current position.”