As women enter the dental profession in increasing numbers in North America and around the world, the questions of how they perceive their environment and what kind of barriers they face are important subjects to be addressed. The aim of this study was to assess and compare women dental students' perceptions of bias in their environment and experiences of sexual misconduct at one dental school in each of four countries. In spring 2017, 1,293 female students at four dental schools in the U.S., Bulgaria, Brazil, and India were invited to participate in a 24-item survey developed by researchers from the four countries; 990 students responded (response rate 76.6%). The overall majority of the respondents reported thinking the admissions process at their school was fair (79.7%); but a fifth of U.S. and Brazilian students perceived their school was not fully embracing of females, with most Bulgarian students agreeing (87.2%) and all Indian students disagreeing. Most respondents overall perceived that male faculty members did not favor male students (79.5%) and did not think there was discrimination against female students by faculty (87.1%), but half of the U.S. respondents reported feeling discriminated against by both male faculty and male students. When the responses "I've been verbally harassed" and "I've been somewhat verbally harassed" were combined, 10.1% of the U.S. respondents reported verbal harassment, compared to 20% of Brazilian, 15% of Bulgarian, and 2% of Indian respondents. When the responses "I've been sexually assaulted" and "I've been somewhat sexually assaulted" were combined, 6% of U.S. respondents reported being sexually assaulted, compared to 6.2% of Brazilian, 2.5% of Bulgarian, and none of the Indian respondents. Almost half (46.9%) of these students overall perceived their school was not or only somewhat vigilant about issues of sexual misconduct, and only 54% said they would feel comfortable or very comfortable reporting misconduct. These results suggest that academic dental institutions in all four countries need improvements to make their environments more equitable and free of bias and sexual misconduct.
Keywords: dental education; equal access; female students; gender issues; harassment; perceptions.