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Pathways: Saoirse O’ Toole

Can you tell us a little about your career and the path you took to your present role at FoDOCS? 

My pathway into FoDOCs was very straight forward. I’m a clinical academic so I qualified as a dentist, did a house officer year, worked in private practice, published a paper, dabbled in research and ultimately met David Bartlett (Head of the Centre for Oral, Clinical & Translational Sciences) at a conference which ultimately resulted in me doing a PhD here. I worked hard and got appointed as a clinical lecturer afterwards.

What, if any, challenges did you encounter along the way, and how did you navigate them? 

I became pregnant just over one year into my specialist clinical training. I’m not good with hormonal changes and immediately started to notice differences. I was sick all the time and had antenatal depression. I couldn’t work as hard or concentrate. I couldn’t exercise hard which was my predominant method of stress relief. I had a lockdown baby where we weren’t allowed outside for more than an hour, let alone having support from family or health care providers. I had relatives back in Ireland that were degenerating physically and needed support.

We always planned on having two kids so when I became pregnant with number two and depression struck again, I dropped out of clinical training and moved back to Ireland. After a very linear progressive career until kids, I didn’t know how to get back on track. I needed help and directly asked for it. Thanks to an amazingly supportive Head of Department and Dean who were willing to pull favours and fight on my behalf, I was able to pick up my clinical training this year.

If you could, what advice would you give your younger self at the start of your career? 

I was completely unprepared for the challenges of pregnancy and motherhood. If I was to give advice to someone at this stage, it would be that there are going to be inevitable sacrifices and to try your best to accept them. Get support systems in place early. Prioritise one or two things that will keep your career going to keep publications active. Recognise that you will get back on track when you are less sleep deprived and more physically able even when it feels like you will ever be “normal” again. Ask for help if you need it and try not to make any big irreversible decisions (like dropping out of clinical training when there are options to pause it) when you know you are not yourself. Ideally have a supportive boss. 

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Embrace Equity’. What does equity mean to you, and how can everyone (regardless of gender) embrace it? 

Equity to me is everyone being given the same opportunities despite differences. If there are inequities, we should all feel completely comfortable saying “I think I am at a disadvantage here” and get given whatever support is needed to level up the playing field. This applies to race, neurodiversity, disability or gender.