Burnout: Finding your why to avoid the burn

You’ve been practicing as an associate dentist for a couple of years, and you feel pretty confident in your skills. No longer is seeing patients and carrying out complex procedures terrifying, and your imposter syndrome is mostly in check. You should feel like you’re at the top of your game, but perhaps you’re gradually feeling like you’re stuck in a rut.

Dr. Soroushian

If this describes you, you could be experiencing burnout or losing the joy you previously felt in dentistry. It is time for you to find your WHY.

Find your Why

What brought you to dentistry? Was it having a network of supportive colleagues? Was it an opportunity to excel in a field and share your knowledge? Do you have an insatiable love for information and technology? Or maybe the community you get to serve?

These are important questions to ask your inner self, a simply way to remind yourself on what brought you to this profession.

What do you love about everyday practice? Do you love building and leading your team? Do you love the numbers and intricacies of building solid systems? Do you love technology and efficiency?

Grow Outside the Office

You’ve now done some soul searching and figured out what motivated you to apply to dental school. Let’s figure out how you can grow in those areas.

Make colleagues, not competitors

If you enjoy working with colleagues, consider becoming involved with the local dental society or advocating for the profession by joining the state dental board. Having a bigger network not only leads to better professional opportunities, but also creates a platform on which you can discuss interdisciplinary cases and enhance your expertise.

Influence minds

If you enjoy sharing your knowledge, you can consider teaching opportunities not only at a dental school, but also in hygiene or assisting programs. A study club can be a prime opportunity to share your passions with fellow dentists or folks in other fields. You can also partner with local schools to bring brushing alive in their classrooms. Even early on in your career, there are plenty of ways you can be a mentor to someone else.

Never stop learning

If your passion is diving deep into improving your skills, start looking around. Have you found a local study club? Start talking about what interests you and what you’re looking for; you’ll soon realize that there are more mentoring groups, study clubs, and high-quality continuing education all over the U.S. and the world than you imagine. Use this opportunity to grow not only in your technique, but also your perspective of your industry.

Help your community

Most of us were drawn to dentistry because of our love of helping others. If this still inspires you, consider pursuing volunteer opportunities or positions that allow you to help people who don’t have access to dental care. Ask your colleagues and local society about low-cost or no-cost clinics to which you can contribute your time and skills, or community health centers where you can make this passion your profession.

Grow Inside the Office

If you love what you do but are finding the daily work of dentistry to be a drag, consider focusing your attention within the walls of your office. Start measuring your stats like an athlete — are you as efficient as possible? What’s the health of your clinical systems? How about your front office systems? What can you do to build a better team? Even an associate can play a more active role in the day-to-day operation of the practice.

The office itself is a place where self-education can shine. Have you tapped into the wealth of dental podcasts or business development books available in only a few clicks? You don’t need to be an owner to benefit from such materials; regardless of your position, you can inspire your patients to obtain the best care possible for their dental health.

Grow in the Profession

Even if you’ve broadened your network, ignited a love for teaching, and built a great team, there’s a chance you’re just in the wrong job. Maybe time has gone by and you’ve grown out of your position. Burnout is often the result of a motivated person stuck in a job that doesn’t allow them to flourish. Perhaps a change of scenery and a position that allows you to manage the staff more directly would suit you, or perhaps you are more comfortable with less staff headache and more freedom to incorporate the latest and greatest tools and techniques in your practice.

Or maybe it’s the job. Period. Many of us went into dentistry to become owners. While owning isn’t for everyone, if you’re feeling the effects of burnout, connect with a couple of folks who recently opened their own offices. Maybe you’ll discover that it’s the right direction for you. If it is, start learning and doing the legwork to position yourself financially and emotionally, so that you are ready to take the next step towards running a practice of your own.

Or maybe it’s working in practice, either yours or someone else’s. It’s not uncommon to miss the camaraderie you felt when you were a student. Perhaps it’s time to look into a career in academia. If your passion is serving the underserved, consider a career with a community health center.

Find your Why, and You’ll find the Fun

Burnout is the feeling you get when you’re tired; time drags on as you slowly lose your motivation. As the saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” When we play, we don’t want it to end. Once you find your Why, build your career around it, and hopefully you’ll be able to find the FUN at work again.

Dr. Sheila Soroushian is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Orange County, California, and graduated from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in 2011 before attending the orthodontic residency at Howard University. Sheila is an orthodontist serving greater Colorado Springs, Colorado and is active with the New Dentist Committee at the Colorado Dental Association. When she’s not working, she enjoys rock climbing, hiking, camping, and skiing in the beautiful Colorado mountains.

5 comments

  • Hi Sheila, loved your post. Thanks for sharing your message. You are a gifted writer.

  • Dr. Susie Kalinian

    Hi Dr. Sheila Soroushian,
    As a fellow Tufts Dental Alumni (D’02) from California, thanks for the inspiring recommendations; especially during these challenging times of Covid-19 (abrees!).
    Best Wishes,
    Dr. Susie Kalinian
    Pediatric Dental Specialist

  • Thank you for the article. I find trying to concentrate on one area of dentistry has really helped me overcome ‘burnout’

  • Myron Allukian Jr. DDS MPH

    Dear Dr. Saroushian
    I thought your article was well done. a few suggestions, 1) The primary purpose of state dental boards is to protect the public, not the profession .2) The most cost effective way to improve the oral health of everyone in a community, is community water fluoridation, most dntists never mention it to their patients and they should..
    3) More dentists need to become involved in their communities such as Boards of Health and School Boards

    When you were a 1st year student at Tufts, I lectured to your class, and began by having everyone stand

    • Hi Dr. Allukian, and thank you for your kind words! You are observant; I meant to say state dental society. Living in Colorado Springs, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking water fluoridation for granted since there is a moderate level of naturally occurring fluoride (most of the municipal water supplies aren’t fluoridated), and I appreciate this reminder.

      I believe the remainder of your comment was cut off, which is a shame because I am sure I would have enjoyed the memory! I recall your passion and especially your advocacy for the state dental program, which was (and most likely still is) revolutionary for the US. I enjoy sharing the story of the MA adult dental benefit with friends and patients, because it demonstrates how willing we are, as dentists, to stand up for the oral healthcare of all people and also how strong we are when we choose to stand together.

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