If you’ve been to the dentist in Hilo, you’ve likely met Dr. Patsy Fujimoto.
Fujimoto retired from dentistry three years ago after serving East Hawaii for four decades, and currently serves as president of the Hawaii Dental Association.
Fujimoto’s roots in dentistry began long before her professional career — at her father’s dental practice in Hilo. When he couldn’t find people to work, he employed his children.
“My whole family worked there. Dentistry is just what we knew,” she said. “I always told the people who worked for me that I have done everything. I wanted them to know that I understood what they all go through.”
With the years of experience with her father, Fujimoto decided to pursue dentistry as a career.
While she enjoyed dental school, it was a male-dominated field — out of the 128 people in Fujimoto’s dental class, 15 were women.
“There were some skeptics that asked why a woman would go into dentistry,” she said. “You really had to prove yourself and many of my male classmates would recognize how much harder it was for us.”
Once she left school, Fujimoto joined the Hawaii Dental Association and met mentors and peers who were working across the state.
“I was lucky to have amazing mentors that really taught me that there was no barrier to what I wanted to do,” she said. “I felt like I was really supported and that I could do whatever I wanted.”
Fujimoto also is an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. As an educator, she notices an even split between men and women in classes today.
While she loves teaching and working for the HDA, Fujimoto looks back fondly on her time as a practicing dentist and the relationships she was able to build with her patients.
“The best thing about dentistry is getting to know your patients and watching them grow up,” she said. “I used to crochet blankets for my patients and I was invested in their lives. I’ve seen them go from five years old to married with kids of their own.”
Fujimoto and her brother have both retired from dentistry and sold their father’s business to a new dental practice.
“I appreciated working in Hilo as I got older and more experienced,” Fujimoto said. “There is comfort in truly knowing a community and the people you’ve helped. I love running into old patients every now and then.”
Since retiring from practice, Fujimoto has been able to spend more time working for the HDA.
As president, Fujimoto tries to encourage young dentists and help them generate the best dental practices they can.
“I’ve seen some great young dentists come up to take responsibility and really work for the association,” Fujimoto said. “I hope I am able to encourage them to feel capable in their work. There is a lot of great talent coming up from the HDA.”
The HDA is a statewide professional association of dentists licensed and practicing in Hawaii. The nonprofit has been operating in some capacity since 1903.
Fujimoto has been president during three separate terms and currently oversees over 900 members of HDA.
She leads advocacy efforts at the state level, service projects, and educational programs for working dentists.
“The association allows me to advocate for our members and support projects within dental education,” Fujimoto said. “I have always thought that if you don’t like something, it’s so important to be part of the process in finding a solution.”
For Fujimoto, dentistry has always been centered on helping people, whether peers or patients.
“I think most of our members went into dentistry because they wanted to help people,” Fujimoto said. “For me, dentistry has been very rewarding and I hope I’ve contributed something to the HDA as well.”
Email Kelsey Walling at firstname.lastname@example.org