Do you ever find yourself coming home exhausted, both mentally and physically? Have you ever wished it was Friday, only to realize that you only just finished Monday? Do you have multiple days where you are anxious or just don’t want to go back to the office? Feel unappreciated by the team and/or patients? Get to the point that you just cannot seem to have the same level of compassion or emotional attachment to your patients that you used to have? Lost the joy in being in healthcare?
Burn out can manifest itself in different ways for people but is very real.
For me it surfaced around five years after becoming a dentist. I thought I was weak. I had wanted to be a dentist my entire life, how could it have hit me this fast? Did I really pick the wrong profession? I had the letter to a corporate office to sell the practice sitting on my desk for months, just a phone call away from giving it up.
Dentistry is an amazing profession; however, it is not always an easy one for the provider. We may not have to deal with a lot of strenuous activity, but the positions and repetitive motions we make are hard on the body. We must manage the emotional weight of our patients and team members. We constantly must make hard decisions for everyone around us. Not to mention getting told on a regular basis from patients that they “hate the dentist”.
Is it any wonder that many dentists end up with burn out at some point in their careers? Being an owner and running a business can serve to make this entire problem worse.
Now, thankfully, I can say several years later that I absolutely love what I do. I enjoy going to work every day. I work with some amazing team members and get to treat many great people! I still own the office.
Working my way out of “burnout” was not an overnight process. It required several changes in the way I approached my job for me to turn this problem around. Hopefully sharing some of my journey can help someone either pull out of a burnout period or avoid it altogether, in the first place.
The first things I had to realize were what really motivates me, what do I enjoy doing, and what is it that bogs me down. It comes down to clarifying what YOU really want.
- How many days a week do you WANT to work?
- How much vacation do you WANT to take each year?
- Do you WANT a higher income, same, or would less be fine?
- Do you WANT to work multiple locations, or just one?
- Do you really WANT to own a business, and everything that comes with that, or not?
- What tasks do you WANT to do that give you pleasure, and what tasks depress you?
Often, we find ourselves in situations not because we WANTED them, but because we got stuck in them. Instead of designing our work life around our personal life; our personal life only gets what is left after our work life.... which is NOT a healthy way to live.
If nothing else, you are likely in better shape than I was, because I burned out in under 5 years. I was working 5 days a week, taking "work" home, and was on the verge of selling to corporate.
Now, I work 4 days a week, take 5 weeks of vacation a year, and take as much CE as I want. I see the type of patients/cases I most enjoy, dismiss those I don't, do the procedures I like, and refer the ones that would give me a headache (although I probably should give up even more root canals!)
I no longer bring "work" home other than some random post op calls, which I usually can accomplish on the drive home. I stopped writing clinical notes and conducting business tasks at home. And at the end of the day, I make a significantly higher income.
How did I turn the situation around? I finally realized I needed to “redefine and redesign” my work life. Over the course of a year or two, here are some of the changes that worked for me. Perhaps some of these tactics might help you:
1) Stop taking work home! We need a separation of work and home, or we never get a mental break that we really need.
2) Define your ideal personal life. Then make work fit into THAT schedule. Work should be secondary and supportive of your personal goals.
3) Take more vacation and time off to refresh yourself. Although it may be counter-intuitive, my income went up working less. Unless you are fully booked months out with zero cancellations, your income won’t go down (like I always feared it might). More likely, taking time off will just help make other days fuller and busier with no overall drop in production (but a nice drop in expenses).
4) Visit a massage therapist regularly, and possibly even a chiropractor. Many therapists will even come to your office! The strain we put on our necks and backs needs support to prevent long term fatigue.
5) Delegate more! Improve your strengths, learn to do better on your neutrals, and delegate out your weaknesses.
6) Reduce your commute time. While not always easy to accomplish, what a massive difference this change can make. I went from driving an hour to work, to under 10 minutes, a huge reduction in stress with more time for my family.
7) Soul search if you really WANT to work as many days as you do, or would you rather make the same amount of money working fewer days.
8) Find your passion and make time for it. Whether it’s a specific area within dentistry or something else outside that keeps you motivated, find more time to devote to that passion. For me, this was learning more about business principles and dental insurance.
You can do all of this WITHOUT some concrete responses you will get from people who demand something specific (such as dropping insurance and doing procedures you don't like.) Sure, those things can help, but they aren't 100% necessary. Again, plan what you WANT, and then make everything else fit that. One of the most beautiful things about dentistry as a profession is the vast scope of different ways to be successful. The one concept that binds them all together is learning to be efficient and plan well.
I was there a few years ago, burned out at a young age. But there is a way out; and the best news is most of the solutions reside in changes you make in yourself and where you spend your time, not from outside influences. Which means we are our only obstacle to happiness.
Dentistry is an amazing profession that I have learned to love more every day. Good luck in your journey!