How the pandemic forced a Philadelphia dentist out of the industry

The COVID-19 pandemic forced one dentist — and countless other women — out of her job, Cassie Gafford, DMD, told NPR.

Dr. Gafford joined a private practice in Philadelphia and loved it. Then the pandemic hit.

The practice closed temporarily, as did her 1-year-old daughter's day care. Dr. Gafford's husband was able to work from home, so she took care of her daughter full time. When the dental practice reopened, her boss asked her to come back.

"I had to get back to him and realized that, no, I could not," Dr. Gafford said. "I had to take care of my family."

Dr. Gafford didn't want to be a stay-at-home mom, but her job involved close contact with patients and she worried about the possibility of her child getting COVID-19.

Millions of women have dropped out of the workforce since February, according to Martha Gimbel, a senior manager of economic research at Schmidt Futures. A lot of women choose to stay home with their children, but a lot of women are currently leaving their jobs who don't want to, Ms. Gimbel said. Women are prioritizing their children's health or education over their careers.

Women are experiencing this more than men because of cultural precedent and because women are typically paid less than men, Ms. Gimbel explained. Consequently, the share of women in the workforce is the lowest it's been in decades, and it probably won't rebound quickly.

"I still am a dentist, but I'm not practicing in the way that I always thought I would," Dr. Gafford concluded. "And that's a little demoralizing. And yet I know it's the right decision for my family."

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