Meet the dynamic duo who established the first mother-daughter orthodontic partnership in the State of Georgia: Suzane King, D.D.S. (mother) and Virginia McCune, D.M.D (daughter). In fact, there are only a few practices alike found in the United States. Not only was Dr. King the first female accepted into the orthodontic department at Emory University, but she was also the first female orthodontist in Georgia. Her daughter soon followed her footsteps, graduating top of her class from the Medical College of Georgia and later working side by side with her mother.
Together, they focus on creating beautiful smiles for their patients and giving back to their local community and around the world. Dr. King and Dr. McCune offered their feedback on what it is like to work as women in orthodontics and together as a family.
Why did you choose to become an orthodontist?
Dr. McCune: Initially, I thought I didn’t want to follow my mother’s career path. That sounded too unoriginal! I was considering medicine instead until I went on a mission trip while in college. The trip was comprised of a number of medical doctors and dentists, and it was there where I was convinced that the lifestyle of a dentist was much more conducive to having a family. The dentists also felt like they were able to spend more time with each and every patient, really getting to know them. I had known this all along from watching the way my mom practiced but sometimes you just need to hear something from a non-parent figure to believe it!
What was your reaction when your daughter told you she wanted to follow your career path? How did you feel?
Dr. King: Colleagues always ask me how I talked Virginia into being an orthodontist and I tell them that I made a conscience effort not to say a thing. I wanted her to pick her own career and actually kept telling her to go to business school and get into corporate America. She once said that she thought it was so cool that I knew all of her friends and I knew all of the gossip from school before she did—it must be a fun job. When she told me that she decided she wanted to be an orthodontist, I had no doubt that she would accomplish her goal because she has always been such a hard worker and accomplishes what she sets her mind on. I knew from the start that we would work together easily mainly because she is so flexible.
What have you learned from your mother about your industry and caring for patients?
Dr. McCune: My mom has an amazing way of really getting to know kids, learning how they tick, and—most importantly—speaking truth into their lives in a way that they listen and respond. She is not afraid to challenge them or ask them hard questions. It’s so fun to now see a number of those patients come back as adults (they are bringing their kids in for braces!) and to talk about things that they still remember my mom telling them or ways that she encouraged them.
How would describe an average day working together in your practice?
Dr. King: We both see patients three days a week and, when we started, we assumed that we would work different days and overlap on only one day. We quickly learned that we were much more productive if we were in the office at the same time because one person could be free to see new patients while the other is in the clinic with patients already in treatment; this gives us time to really connect with our new patients and answer their questions. I know the consultants tell us to only spend five minutes with new patients, but we love establishing a relationship with them from the start and that takes time. We learn so much more about their individual situation and have a chance to calm a scared 8-year-old or convince a 60-year-old that they are not too old for braces.
I practiced by myself for 30 years and would never go back to that. It has been a dream working with my daughter on several levels: I love having a second opinion right there; we are always out for the best interests of the other person which can sometimes be hard in a partnership, there is never any thought about one person taking advantage of the other; and most importantly I don’t mind at all when she wants to skip out a little early to see her children in a play; after all, they are my grandchildren. Virginia’s Christian faith is the most important thing in her life, and she really does unto others the way she would have them do unto her. I am not anywhere close to being like that, so I lucked out that my partner makes working together so easy.
Dr. McCune: We share patients, rather than each having our own patient population. ; this means is that we are both out in the clinic at the same time. We have a blinking light system to tell us where to go next and whichever one of us finishes up first will go to the next patient in need. If one of us saw the patient last time and now the other one has a question about where treatment is going or if a new patient presents with a difficult diagnosis, we can immediately come together and talk about it. Two heads are better than one and the patients and parents seem to really notice and appreciate this!
How do you envision the industry changing as more women become practitioners?
Dr. King: It will get better and better. I was the first female orthodontist in Georgia and was always one of just a handful of females at meetings. There was definitely a good old boys network of referrals but, as more and more women have entered the profession, that has changed. Virginia and I are members of a fantastic women’s orthodontic study group: GLO = Georgia Lady Orthodontists. We meet about once a quarter and talk about everything from cases we are worried about to practice management, marketing, everything. It is refreshing the way everyone is so open with their successes and failures; it means we all learn so much more from one another. I would encourage all female orthodontists to start such a group. Orthodontics is a profession that gives a woman a chance for a fantastic career while still having the flexibility of raising a family. I won’t say it is easy, Virginia and I both have 4 children, so it is busy and has some crazy days, but it is doable. I actually have had 11 women go into the dental field, some are dentists, some pediatric dentists, some orthodontists; it has been so rewarding. We have had many former patients or prospective dental students intern in our office to see if it is the career path for them. So far, all who have applied have gotten into dental school; it is so much fun to watch them grow.
Dr. McCune: Since my mom has been in practice, she has encouraged five (correct my if I’m wrong about this number, mom) female patients to become dentists! It is so fun to go to orthodontic conferences and see the room full of half men and half women. My mom did not at all have that experience when she first got out in practice. I think male and female clinicians bring different skills to the table and it’s great to see that both are now representing the profession.
Carestream Dental is proud to have Dr. King and Dr. McCune as members of our CS OrthoTrac family. We are also excited to participate in the second annual Women in Orthodontics meeting this October. The two-day conference offers a platform for female doctors to speak about business, clinical, and personal issues orthodontists face from a woman’s perspective. For more information about the meeting or to register for the event, please click here.