Chapter 25: Avoiding Burnout
Dentists are at a higher risk of burnout than members of most other professions. The dentist has a unique position as both healthcare provider and businessperson. This dual role can cause dentists to feel overwhelmed and suffer from significant levels of anxiety. Burnout usually presents in dentists as a feeling of hopelessness or dread about going to the office. It can affect the way you run your business, the way you interact with staff and patients, and even the way you practice dentistry. For all these reasons, it is extremely important to be aware of your risk for burnout and take practical steps to prevent it as you begin your practice.
What Causes Burnout?
What is the number one cause of burnout? Research suggests that burnout occurs when you are not receiving rewards that are at least as valuable as the emotional cost of dealing with the stress of being in the dentistry business. The stressors can include:
- student debt from dental school
- high business startup costs
- high overhead costs
- high rates of patient nonpayment
- difficulties dealing with staff members
- maintaining a professional attitude despite listening to negative attitudes from patients.
- making no-win business decisions
- having low status compared to other healthcare providers
How Can You Manage the Stress of High Costs and Debt?
The best thing you can do to eliminate stress related to business costs is to reduce those costs as much as possible. However, some high costs are unavoidable, especially if you practice in a large metropolitan area. In that case, it is important to remember that the costs are not just headaches in this present moment. They are investments toward building a successful dental practice. This is one instance in which a future-oriented perspective can help you feel more in control of your life.
How Can You Enlist Your Dental Team to Lighten Your Load?
Your dental clinic staff members can help you avoid stress to a certain degree if you will only ask them. Assuming you have gathered a competent team, all you need to do is let them know that everyone needs to work together to make working in your office relaxing for everyone, including both you and them. And, the most important thing you can do is trust them to do their jobs correctly. If you have hired a team that don’t need to be micromanaged, then back off and let them handle the day to day operations without getting any more involved in them as you have to be.
Using Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques have been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and even lower blood pressure. You need to take breaks to refresh your mind and your body. Take them often during the day. Running from one procedure to the next might seem the most productive way to work. The truth is that you can’t be at your most efficient best if you do not take a few moments here and there throughout your day to unwind a little. Try the following relaxation techniques during your breaks:
- Deep breathing
- Social time with a friend, even if it is only on the telephone
- Guided imagery
- Systematic muscle relaxation
- Watching funny videos or reading humorous books
- Listening to your favorite music
- Nature walks
Leave Work at Work
The fact that you are usually on call for dental emergencies does not give you a reason to dwell on work after your workday is done. Instead, you can pay attention to your own personal needs and desires on your days and evenings away from the office. That is not to say you will never talk to friends or family members about your job. Of course you will from time to time! However, letting the worries and pressures you faced all day at work cloud your home life is not helpful to you or anyone else. Leave work at work and remember that worry never accomplished anything. When you are fresh and relaxed, you are more likely to come up with solutions to problems at work than you are if you go around all your life thinking of these problems.
Develop Strong Personal Relationships Away from Work
Besides physical needs, you also have emotional and social needs.Developing strong personal relationships can help you meet those needs and live a more fulfilling life. But, in order to develop those relationships, you need to spend time with others. Giving quality time to your friends and family outside of working hours can help you relieve stress. It can help you become a more centered person and more connected with the world around you. Working on your personal relationships can help you develop insight and intuition about people’s needs and desires. It can actually make you a better dentist. It can give you a strong support system that keeps you going even in the toughest of times. Beyond that, it can make you a more whole human being..
Accepting the Rewards of Your Position
You are building what can be a very successful dental practice. You are helping your patients by providing them with outstanding dental services. You are helping your employees earn a living and support their own families and dreams. Now, it is time to think a bit more about what you should be receiving personally for your efforts. Consider the following questions and think about how you might make changes in your life to accommodate your greatest hopes and dreams outside your dental business:
- When was your last non-working vacation?
- What one place in the world have you always wanted to see?
- If you could spend all the time you wanted with your friends, what would you like to do together?
- What would you most like to accomplish outside of your industry?
- What one thing have you always wanted but could never afford before?
- When was the last time you went to see your favorite major league or college sports team in person?
- What type of entertainment have you missed most in recent months or years?
- What cultural events would you like most to attend?
- What hobbies would you like most to pursue?
Many dentists, especially those who are just starting out in their practice, might think of this list and say to themselves, “But I don’t have time to do those things!” or “Money is too tight in the clinic for me to think of spending that much!” What you need to understand is that these objects, people and activities are crucial to the success of your practice. If you do not relax now and then and accept the rewards that come with being a dentist, you will eventually have to deal with burnout. The alternative to overworking and under-enjoying is having a beautiful, rich and satisfying life you so deserve to have.