The effect of COVID-19 on an associate dentist
As a dentist in Oregon, we are currently under an executive order from the governor mandating that dentists, as well as other PPE-using providers, cease all nonemergency treatment until June 15. For dental practice owners in the state, this is a massive financial hit. When one considers the impact of the pandemic on dental offices, it’s easy to focus on the clinical responses. Personally, I think a greater concern is that of the affected workforce.
On March 17, I was contacted by my employer letting me know that our office would be closing to all non-essential treatment for at least three weeks. I was fortunate to have an employer who offered to pay three weeks PTO to all employees at the time of the closure. By the following week, the executive order had been released that extended that three-week closure into a nearly 13-week closure.
Initially, I was unsure what that meant for my employment. As details were getting ironed out, I didn’t know if I would still be on-call for 13 weeks for emergency patients, if my employer would offer to continue payroll for employees through the entire closure with hopes of financial reimbursement from the government at a later date, or if I would be laid off and have to apply for unemployment.
While I waited for details, my mind swirled with the stresses that many of us are currently all-too-familiar with: How can I afford this? When will I actually be returning to work? Will someone close to me contract the coronavirus? Will I contract the virus? Is our emergency medical system ready for the impending tidal wave?
On March 30, I was informed that my office would be laying off all employees, myself included, until the governor lifted the executive order. The owner dentist would be the one treating any emergencies that may arise with our patients of record. In order to ensure my eligibility for unemployment, my employment contract was terminated with the plan to re-contract after the practice restrictions are lifted. Our office collected all available gloves and masks in order to donate any surplus supplies to the State so that PPE could be redistributed to hospitals in need.
So at this point in time, I am currently floating in the strange abyss that much of the country is. We have a stay-at-home order in our state, so my husband and I are limiting all of our interactions with the outside world by minimizing trips to public spaces. We are cooped in a house with an emotional two-year-old and a stir-crazy four-year-old. We are balancing our pre-existing parenting ideals of minimal screen time and balanced meals with the internal adult drives of staying informed and minimizing anxiety.
I could easily get caught up in trying to find ways to remain dentally active, and I’ve seen social media pages with dentists going to great lengths to continue providing a wide array of treatment to their patients. Instead of obsessing over the issues within my dental bubble, I’m choosing to take a step back and remind myself of the reasons I am not working.
Our nation’s emergency medical system and its providers are undersupplied and underprepared for the onslaught of cases they are professionally and morally obligated to treat. Our small businesses are not able to withstand the heavy financial impact that social distancing and other mandates impose. Our loved ones are at risk for developing disease that could potentially end their lives. The entire population is in the eye of an ethical storm where the raindrops are threats to our civil liberty, and the wind-gusts are the push to protect our fellow man.
To make a long story short, now is not the time for me to focus on dentistry. Now is the time to swallow my pride, collect my fears and anxieties, and do my best to help the crisis pass.
Dr. Amberena Fairlee is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Bend, Oregon and graduated from Oregon Health and Sciences School of Dentistry in 2017. Amber is an associate general dentist in Redmond, Oregon. When she’s not working or serving on the Oregon Dental Association’s Board of Trustees, she can be found drinking lattes, cuddling her husband, Nathan, and playing with her kids, Jasper and Fiona.