“I have always felt and believed that women deserve a seat at every table where a man sits.” When it comes to being African-American and a woman in the medical field, Dr. Valerie Okehie, who owns Elite Root Canal Specialties located in Greenbelt, Maryland knows about this struggle. Founding her practice in 2018 during her pregnancy with her second child, she was determined to create a space for herself and her Maryland residents to care about their well-being and smiles. “Most people envision an older white male when they think of an Endodontist. There are very few people who look like me in my line of work.”
Dr. Okehie thought about an upcoming generation of girls when she started thinking about being an entrepreneur. “I care very much about how societies use and treat women not just for my generation but also for the generations to come,” Dr. Okehie shared. She reflected on her journey and life and came to a conclusion that she wasn’t living the life she wanted. “I had always had a goal of being my own boss but like a normal person, I was kind of intimidated by what it would take for me to get there.”
As it’s always easier to work for someone rather than creating a business from scratch, there were thoughts of doubt that flew through Dr. Okehie’s mind while starting the process. But upon being a mother and thinking about what she wanted her daughter to know about life, she begun to move in the slow and hard—but rewarding—direction of being an entrepreneur.
“I started to think more about my life, my own decisions, and how my daughter is going to look at me and I wanted to show myself that I could practice all these things that I am going to teach my daughter.” With her daughter’s birth, she decided to make a path for her that society would love to say was impossible. Dr. Okehie believes that mothers need to guide their daughters and let them know what they are capable of being and doing big things. “We cannot leave that up to society.”
“I decided to stop deferring my dream and to finally open my practice because at such an “inconvenient time”, 2 months after my daughter’s birth, because I wanted to show myself that I could practice all these lessons that I hope to teach my daughter.” Wanting to be a model for her daughter and longing to be a loving parent jumpstarted Dr. Okehie toward opening her first practice in 2018 with no employees or customers. But her determination didn’t stop there.
“I never imagined it to be a cakewalk,” she began. “There were some things I did not expect. I did have to deal with a lot of criticism from friends, colleagues and relatives trying to understand why I wanted to open a practice now and I would just continue to leave [their comments] there. There would never be a perfect time. First, I graduated and had a bunch of student loans and I got pregnant and everyone thought I had misplaced priorities.” With questions coming from both colleagues and friends, she heard the same statements: “Why are you doing this?”
Dr. Okehie persevered and decided to open her practice from scratch. Dr. Okehie went from office to office spreading the word herself about her dentist office. “It was always time to market [myself] to dentists and convince them to start working with you versus whoever. It was very challenging for me. This definitely taught me a lot about patience and persistence and never giving up because I have to go to other people’s offices and say ‘this is who I am. This is what I can offer you.’ Dr. Okehie thanks her husband for helping her at home when things get tiring at work. “I’m very grateful and I don’t have an issue with not having patients on the schedule. But when you have to work hard to get where you are, I think you’re more appreciative of the blessings.”
During the times that Dr. Okehie didn’t have employees, she begun to do everything concerning the business on her own. “There were many months when our family relied on my husband’s income alone because I had no income, simply because I was not treating enough patients. There were many long hours at the office and away from home, attending to paperwork, fine-tuning systems for a smoother running of the office. For the longest time, I could not afford a larger staff and so I had to do a lot of the admin work myself.” Soon Dr. Okehie’s persistence began to pay off and she received clients that supported her business. “With time, the tides began to turn and it appeared my persistence started to pay off. As a result, the office became more profitable and I was able to hire more staff. My work hours began to stabilize and I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Now, Dr. Okehie is a Board Certified Endodontist, which is awarded to less than twenty percent of endodontists in the United States. She is also a member of the American Association of Endodontists, American Dental Association, Maryland State Dental Association, and National Dental Association. Also, in 2019 and earlier this year, Dr. Okehie has been selected to be a Washingtonian Top Dentist.
Dr. Okehie’s favorite quote is “To be a woman is to be unapologetically resilient, despite everything.” And Dr. Okehie has been unapologetically resilient, pushing toward her goals when there was no promise in sight. Dr. Okehie wants women to not be scared of going to the dentist and caring about their dental health. “I want them to not be so scared,” she said. “That’s why at my office we have blankets and it looks like a spa. I hope that will happen within a lot more dentist offices.”
Visit Dr. Okehie at her website.
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