Spotlight on Dr. Sahira Kortam
Female immigrant opened Ashburn Orthodontics as mother of year-old triplets
Entrepreneurs who launch their own businesses face myriad challenges, including everything from access to start-up funding to the competitive disadvantages of being “the new kid on the block.” For women starting a business, the obstacles can be even greater. They face the same business challenges that men do, but many also find themselves confronting other stressors, including gender bias and pressure to balance parenting and family responsibilities.
For minority women entrepreneurs, factors such as cultural or racial prejudice can make the challenges even greater.
Take all those hurdles, and now imagine starting a business with young triplets, too.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Dr. Sahira Kortam faced all those challenges head-on. She opened Ashburn Orthodontics 10 years ago to fulfill her passion for helping people achieve healthy, attractive smiles so they can laugh and smile confidently. “It’s an investment in both your health and self-esteem,” she said.
Kortam has had extensive training in the treatment of disorders of the teeth and jaws, and is a diplomat of the American Board of Orthodontics, Board Certification is confirmation of an orthodontist’s personal commitment to providing lifelong quality patient care.
Her accomplishments are all the more impressive given that she built a thriving business while still tending to her responsibilities as a busy mother of four, including a set of triplets who were only a year old when she launched Ashburn Orthodontics.
The mere thought of that kind of workload might leave some exhausted, but Kortam said balancing career and family suits her perfectly. “I find that pursuing my career actually leaves me more energized when I come home at the end of the day,” she said.
A native of Egypt, Kortam earned her dental and master’s degrees from Cairo University, where she completed a three-year residency program in orthodontics. Upon arrival in the United States—when her eldest child was only 10 months old—she enrolled in an additional three-year residency program at The Ohio State University so she could be licensed to practice in the U.S.
“I had many people say to me, ‘Really, you’re going to do another residency?’” Kortam recalled. “But I was glad to be able to go to school. I sometimes think women are too scared to step away. But it can be very empowering.”
Kortam acknowledged she was lucky to have the support of her family, which is something that not all women business owners enjoy—especially if the idea of women working outside the home runs counter to cultural or religious beliefs.
“We lost my father when I was 13 years old, and because of the laws in Egypt, we lost his business and all its assets, so my mother was focused on education, because she always said you never know what might happen,” Kortam said.
Her mother’s insistence on education is especially notable given that the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, which assessed gaps between women and men on health, education, economy and politics, reported that countries in the Middle East and North Africa region have the lowest score of all regions studied. “For now, many women in the region continue to face limitations of basic rights, including for divorce, inheritance, asset ownership, access to justice and freedom of movement,” according to the report.
“My mom was adamant about me finishing my master’s in Egypt,” Kortam explained. “In Egypt, you are invited to be a faculty member at the university if you are on top of your class and you complete the three-year residency. I was second overall in my dental school class and my mom wouldn’t let me leave Egypt until I completed my education and residency there.”
Because of her background, Kortam recognizes the opportunities afforded to women in the United States. That perspective inspires her to encourage other women to pursue their interests, regardless of how much education or experience they may (or may not) have. “I truly believe in empowering women to recognize that it’s never too late to try something new,” she said. “If there is a will, there is a way. You can do it.”