The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines burnout as a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment. According to the most recent ADA Dentist Well-Being Survey as many as 75 percent of dentists deal with moderate to severe stress at some point in their careers. Professionals who experience burnout are more likely to leave practice, and under some circumstances burnout can impact quality of care and even threaten patient safety.
In Beyond the Mouth, a new podcast produced by the ADA Center for Professional Success, Dr. Emelia Sam explains that stress is often mitigated by building human relationships with both colleagues and patients.
“We’re all searching for meaning and connection, even if we’re not able to articulate it,” she says. “When it comes to health care, our patients may be looking for something beyond our clinical competence, and for practitioners, just delivering treatment is not enough. We want to have meaning and fulfillment as well.”
Dr. Sam notes that research conducted at Yale University supports the argument that quality human contact may reduce the risk of burnout.
“They placed sensors on physicians to monitor their interactions throughout the day,” says Dr. Sam. “They found that the physicians who had the highest number of interactions were the most dissatisfied with their job and at the highest risk for burnout and turnover. [However], it wasn’t necessarily the number of interactions, but the depth and the quality of communication. When they were able to connect with their patients and their colleagues, they not only gave their patients a higher sense of well-being, but it did the same for them as well. And they found that the people who made deeper connections were at less risk for burnout.”
Dr. Erinne Kennedy, who faced her own challenges with stress while in dental school, found that reducing her commitments and increasing control over her schedule helped improve her own wellness.
“Saying yes is probably my greatest strength and my greatest weakness at the same time,” Dr. Kennedy says. “But when you say yes all the time, all of a sudden you realize you’re the president of three different organizations, and you have to sit back and question yourself: am I making an impact when my time is so divided? I’ve found that sometimes you can make the most impact when you start pruning things.”
She also notes that journaling and keeping to a daily planner provide her with perspective and reduce the opportunity for chaos.
“Right now I have a five-year journal,” she says, “so you write six lines each day about your day. So you can look back over the five years and see your progress. More importantly, you see things that you thought were a big deal were maybe not, and you see things that seemed really insignificant build up over time and turn into a huge blessing.”
“My last habit for health is my planner. If you don’t learn to plan your day and assign time to things and to be punctual, it’s really easy to not make time for exercise, eating right, or other things that are really important to you. My planner helps me set my priorities in a good way.”
“You can build the most successful practice,” says Dr. Sam, “and if you think of that like a building, it may be magnificent. However, if the foundation of that building is compromised, it’s going to come down at some point. Remember that your well-being is the foundation. It’ll serve you well to make sure that you are protecting that and nurturing that in the ways that you see fit, to ensure not only your professional success, but personal success as well.”
Dr. Sam’s and Dr. Kennedy’s comments were drawn from Beyond the Mouth — a new podcast series from the ADA Center for Professional Success — and edited for space and clarity. Hosted by Dr. Betsy Shapiro, a director for the ADA Practice Institute, the podcast “won’t discuss clinical dentistry, but everything else is fair game.” Beyond the Mouth is available at ADA.org/BeyondtheMouth and through most major podcast distribution channels.
This article, originally published in the spring 2019 issue of Dental Practice Success, is provided by the ADA Center for Professional Success. The Center provides practice management content and decision support tools with the goal of helping members practice successfully, learn conveniently and live well. Visit the Center at Success.ADA.org.