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Dentistry feels like it’s at a tipping point as dental offices continue to struggle with balancing patient demands against ongoing staffing shortages. Appointments are being shortened to accommodate overflowing schedules, and clinicians are feeling overwhelmed. This juxtaposition exacerbates reality. We need passionate clinicians to care for patients and enough time and education to do it well.

Have you lost your passion for dentistry? Are you overwhelmed by wanting to care for everyone but wanting to do it all? While we all have bad days (or even weeks), there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and burnout is real for many. 

Often we can pull ourselves out of a funk, but if we leave our thoughts, attitudes, and feelings unattended, they begin to fester. Many dental clinicians seek out practices with a better culture or provide a different level of care. In contrast, others are tempted to leave the profession altogether, having lost their spark and passion for dentistry. This saddens me because I believe dentistry is one of the most rewarding careers. I know we can regain our individual and collective groove and reignite our passion for dentistry. 

Rediscover Your North Star

Do you remember what made you want to get into dentistry in the first place? I do. 

When I was 15, I called my dentist to see if he was hiring. I thought a job answering phones sounded fun, and it would leave my weekends largely free to hang out with friends. But when I showed up to my first day of work, he handed me an apron and directed me to the back. Somehow, I had just become a dental assistant.

It turns out I loved it. Taking care of people in a vulnerable state was my jam. I quickly learned to put people at ease, read the dentist’s mind, and deliver quality care. I watched what the hygienists were doing and was fascinated. They worked part-time, had families, and made a difference in people’s lives. That was it for me!

Being a dental hygienist has been a dream job for me. As a military spouse, I have never struggled to get work (once I was licensed, of course).  As a mom of three kids, I have been able to work both full-time to pay the mortgage or part-time to get everyone to soccer, gymnastics, karate, and whatever else. This career has welcomed me back after life breaks and allowed me the flexibility to temp when my husband was deployed.

How I’ve Avoided Burnout

For me, the keys to avoiding burnout have been curiosity, change, and mindset. Curiosity has been in my soul from birth, change was forced on me by growing up and marrying into the military, and mindset is what has kept me sane through it all. When you tap into all three of these traits, you will find yourself in a different world.  

Curiosity

The neurotypical three-year-old asks 300 questions a day. But somewhere in our lives, we stop asking questions and put our heads down to get stuff done. But sit back and remember that curious three-year-old you once were. Every day was exciting; you laughed, learned, and embraced the world around you.  

In dentistry, curiosity is key to avoiding burnout. Learning about new technological advances, health, communication, and yourself (the list can go on and on) will bash burnout. It makes each patient interaction unique. When you get in the habit of sharing with patients all the new stuff you are learning, they will come in wondering what’s new and how it applies to their health and wellness.

Change

Change doesn’t mean handing in your two-week notice (although it might). Change is ceasing going through the motions. Have you ever arrived home in your driveway without a memory of the drive? All too often, we are doing life on autopilot. This is easy to do in dentistry.  Go through each procedure on rote memory, with your mind on your grocery shopping list, is a surefire ticket to burnout.  

Get present! Change up the routine. Take all that stuff you are learning with your newfound curiosity and implement it into your life and patient care. No more Groundhog Day for you.

Success Follows Happiness 

Shawn Achor, psychologist and author of “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work,” asserts that our traditional thinking about happiness at work is backward. Our culture has tricked us into believing that success comes first and happiness follows. 

Achor builds a credible case around what he calls “happiness advantage,” which claims that when people work with a positive, happy mindset, everything about their performance — productivity, creativity, engagement — improves. If you say to yourself, “Once I get this raise, then I’ll be happy.” But when you get the raise, and you’re happy for a minute, you start thinking about what else you need to accomplish to be happy. Success is a moving target. If happiness is on the other side of success, you’ll never get there. Shawn’s research shows that success comes easier when a positive attitude is in place first and happiness is more sustained.

Practicing Happiness Improves Relationships & Impacts Productivity

Our attitudes are contagious: our fear, our worry, our positivity. When we are intentionally mindful of replacing fear, worry, and resentment with happiness, we will begin to see a shift. Fake it until you make it! You can manifest your happiness by simply declaring to yourself that you are. 

Developing your emotional intelligence, or EI, makes you more self-aware and more in control of your emotions. This gives you access to more powerful communication and relationships at work and home. Studies have proven high emotional intelligence’s role in what psychologists call subjective well-being, which encompasses life satisfaction and subjective happiness.

Happiness Strategies You Can Start Today

Try these for a few weeks and see how you feel:

Start your day on a positive note! Do something in the morning that makes you feel good. It might be a walk outside for some fresh air. Maybe it’s enjoying a coffee or tea while reading something uplifting. Some people like to do yoga or at least stretch after they get out of bed. Maybe you want to listen to your favorite playlist on the way to work (sing along!). Being in a good mood in the morning puts you on track to keep that positive feeling all day.

Help a coworker. This will not only make you feel good, but it’ll also make your coworker feel good, too! It doesn’t have to be a huge, epic gesture. It could be as simple as bringing someone some water, or a caffeine jolt in-between patients, making sure patient bags are ready, or even bringing a patient back while the coworker runs to the restroom. They will appreciate it, and you’ll feel good for helping. (Don’t miss this blog I wrote about giving – and getting – appreciation at work!)

Practice gratitude. At the end of your day, maybe when you get home and kick off your shoes, think of something you are grateful for. Write it down! Doing this can actually train your brain to focus on positive memories rather than negative ones. People who do this also become more optimistic in other aspects of life. Get yourself a little “gratitude journal” to help commit to this. You can also share positive aspects of your day with others. It could boost them, too.

Be Diligent 

Don’t give up if you’re not feeling happy in your practice right now. Make small changes to help you feel more positive at work and other parts of your life. Always work to improve and learn. See the good in people. Focus on your head and your heart. And take time to remember why you chose dentistry. I hope it inspires you and reignites why our industry is the most amazing one on the planet!

Don’t forget, DentalPost has free online tools and resources, including Emotional Intelligence, DiSC, Core Values, Workplace Culture, and Skills assessments for dental professionals, to help you really get to know yourself and your team.

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