Resources & Tips For Dentists

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By Kari Carter-Cherelus, RDH

It’s not uncommon in the healthcare industry to regularly see professionals running around crazed like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, internally proclaiming that they are late. In healthcare, many variables outside of our control can affect our schedule. Couple this with the pressure of being productive, dealing with the diverse personalities amongst our team members and the patients, and rendering treatment can all contribute to anxiety and stress, leading us to feel burnt out.

According to the US Surgeon General’s report Addressing Health Worker Burnout, the burden of working in stressful work environments that strain the workers’ physical, emotional, and psychological well-being is driving many to burnout, negatively affecting patient care and job longevity. Common causes of burnout are excessive workloads, administrative burdens, limited say in scheduling, and lack of organizational support.¹ We may feel frustrated and feel as though we don’t have autonomy over our schedule. We might worry that cutting corners to stay on time could potentially prove to be a liability for us and negatively affect the patient’s treatment outcome. Clinicians may skip necessary assessments or proper infection control procedures that are considered the standard of care, due to time constraints and staffing shortages.

When we worry that we have gone against the oath we took as a healthcare provider, we can face internal conflict. Voicing our concerns and advocating for ourselves and our patients can seem daunting, frustrating, and may result in actual conflicts within the workplace. This conflict often leads workers to seek employment elsewhere. When employees provide their notice, the employer now has the added burden of finding a satisfactory, competent replacement amidst a provider shortage.

It is imperative that we find solutions to address and manage burnout within ourselves and our teams. We must come up with a treatment plan that is specific to us and/or our team. Some solutions are to first recognize the signs of distress, mental anguish, and burnout in yourself and your colleagues. Self-evaluate to determine what specifically is contributing to your burnout or the team’s and take impactful steps to change it. Journaling daily our thoughts and feelings can help in this area. Often, as healthcare providers, we lack proper boundaries. It is important to educate ourselves on ways to instill proper boundaries that are respectful of all. Working on advocating for our needs and that of our team by saying no when saying yes will conflict with our needs proves helpful. Will adding another patient to the already packed schedule add to or lessen the stress in the team? How will doing so affect team members’ ability to take their lunch, leave on time, or affect work-life balance for all?

Individuals who work in a supportive work environment that has a positive work culture often report fewer instances of burnout and less employee turnover. Ways to make sure that as an employer, your office has a positive work culture is to make sure you hire professionals that align with the principles and values of your office. As an employer, regularly checking in with your team helps to determine what issues need resolutions and ways you can provide support. Conducting stay interviews will help provide you with insight into what needs your team members may have, what goals they need support in attaining, and lets them recognize that their input is valued and appreciated. As a potential employee, find an office that aligns with your beliefs concerning treatment and other matters that are important to you.

Working on improving ourselves has proven beneficial to many for managing their burnout, such as through taking professional development courses, attending conferences, volunteering, and creating supportive networks. Working with a therapist and/or a coach has proven effective for many in finding ways to prevent, address, and manage the burnout in themselves and their team. Take advantage of available resources that can be used by you and your team members to help alleviate stress and overwhelm. Such resources are the ADA Well-Being Program, the International Academy of Dental Life Coaches, the upcoming ADHA Wellness Summit, and my podcast Burnout Bites. I enjoy regularly discussing this topic as a public speaker in my courses and workshops.