Unpopular opinion: It’s not about the dentistry right now

What am I doing to help my practice during this pandemic? I’m drinking great beer and spending some quality time with my loves at home. Really. It’s not about the dentistry right now. Hear me out.

I’m heartbroken. My greatest love has been taken away from me. Dentistry is the only thing I’m good at and the only thing I’ve really invested any time in. I always thought that I could be a great bartender if dentistry didn’t work out but that’s just not in the cards right now since the bars are closed.  What a strange time to be alive.

Y’all. People are freaking out and for good reason. We’re pretty sure that for many of us, our health will be OK but we also don’t know what the financial implications will be. Will our businesses survive 1-3 months of no income? Will our patients forgive us for being closed for so long? Will our team survive financially and want to come back to work with us? Will our patients survive financially and continue wanting non-urgent care? The hardest part about this is that none of us have been through this before so we can’t lean on our mentors the same way that we usually would.

This could be the greatest economic tragedy of our lifetime. It’s heartbreaking, it’s awful. But that’s not what this is about. This is a perfect time for a giant pivot in our lives. We’ve learned so much about generosity, hard work, teamwork, gratitude and community —  it’s time to put it to action outside of our practices.

This is the first time in a long time that we’re not idolizing athletes, rock stars, celebrities and Instagram models. The true heroes have come to the forefront: the doctors, nurses, firefighters and EMTs. Now that toilet paper is the new currency, money doesn’t seem quite so important.

Community is important. Sometimes it seems like it’s not because the world is set up so that you don’t have to engage with people. I hope this time helps us realize how connected we actually are. I miss my teammates, my community, and my patients.  I’m excited to get back to dentistry, but until then I’m going to work on being happy, silly, playful, loving and present.  What a wonderful life we have!

No, I’m not completely blowing off my practice. My team members are taken are of, we are answering emergency calls remotely and doing virtual consults as needed. I’ve hired a contractor to take care of some projects around the office. Here are five things you can do today so that you can chill out for the next few weeks and enjoy your life.

  1. Take care of your team!
    If you’re a business owner, this is what you signed up for. If you want the option to kick @$! when things are back to normal then you need to make sure your work family is taken care of now when things are tough. This is non-negotiable.
  2. Take a break.
    Somewhere along the way we’ve learned that our value is in our work. We’ve learned that success means adding more and more to our list until we’re screaming for more time/help/resources. And even when the government mandates that we take a break, somehow we are still trying to find ways to keep the chaos alive; surfing message boards for new ways to keep ourselves and our team members busy, panicking about… Good grief, just take a break! Take off your nerd hat off and look around. Let your team have a break. We can get back to the chaos next month. You want to sleep in late? Eat ice cream for breakfast? Paint? Build a car? DO IT NOW!I plan to drink lots of great beer, cook with ALL of the garlic, hike my buns off, do a lot of yoga, work on my handstand, take some online dance lessons, and spend some quality time with my loves at home. Your list may involve drinking tea and making soap.
  1. Take care of your to-do list.
    This could be your only time in life to have NOTHING left on your to-do list. Finish the projects around your office and set some intentions for the future. I am taking advantage of the down time by replacing counters, cabinets, and building out a fourth operator at my office.
  2. Quit talking to the people who make you feel low.
    You know the ones I’m talking about! They’re those same people in dental school who made you feel lousy for not studying all the time.  The fearful, angry ones. They’re all over your text messages and especially all over social media — they will make you more fearful and angry!  Stick with the people who have positive solutions that make you feel better.
  3. Plan for the future
    Re-evaluate overhead: One of the most difficult part about dentistry is making sure that less money goes out than coming in. Right now there is a ton of money going out because we need to take care of our bills and our team. Take out a loan if you need to take some pressure off. Soon the money will be coming back in. When it does, is there a chance that your overhead can be lower so that you are more profitable?Your practice vision: What does your ideal office look like?  Write it out.  This is the perfect time to re-invent yourself.  How many ops to do you want? What are the characteristics of each one of your ideal team members? What do your ideal systems look like? What does your perfect schedule look like?Plan for the next time: We are hopeful that this is the only time we’ll be out of work for this long but who knows what could happen. What have your learned that may be helpful next time around?

OK now stop it. You’ve done enough. What if this is the time you learn to love your life outside of work? What if you learn how to be silly with your kids? What if this is the break you needed to reinvigorate your marriage? Maybe you’ll get a few projects done at home. Heaven forbid you learn to relax a little bit.

———

“The Universe requests the honor of your presence at the raging cosmic bender through time, space, and infinite possibility otherwise known as your one and only life.  What are you brining to the party: your drab old sob stories or your dancing shoes?” -Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass

Dr. Dawn Wehking graduated from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in 2010.  She is a visiting faculty member at Spear Education and a contributor to Spear Digest.  She was awarded Master status with the Academy of General Dentistry, has been published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is an ADA Success Speaker, teaching dental students about life after dental school. Dr. Wehking owns a small private practice in Lafayette, Colorado. On her days off, you’ll find her with her dog, Daisy, enjoying Colorado’s great outdoors.

16 comments

  • Thank you Dr. Wehking. Social Media is the devil sometimes. There are so many opinions out there and not one is positive. What this industry needs right now are people like you – who write about survival and common sense. I love this! I will share this with my dentite followers in hopes that more will follow your post.

  • Great perspective in a time of great chaos. I’m guilty of finding my worth in work and it is hard to break away from it even when the government mandates it!! This is just what I needed to read. Thank you!

  • Pingback: It’s not about the dentistry right now – New Dentist Blog – DENTAL JAY

  • I just have to comment. First, it really is great to be reminded to stay grounded. To remember that we are a community of people. However I also have to say this is pretty cringy. If you have the money to continue to pay all your staff, and replace equipment, while generating little to no new income… You live in a different realm than most of us. Every local bread and butter dentist I know has laid off 80-90-100% of their staff, requested loan deferrals, and is trying to figure out which SBA loan they can cover the staff and minimal bills there are left. There are quite a few of us that will lose our businesses over this.

    • M. Collins, DDS

      I agree with you, Jordan! She is not the norm. My husband and I are both dentists with 2 practices and a large team and overhead. We have done our best to cover the last payroll for our awesome team and pay essential bills. Funds are running low and there is no way we would be able to afford projects around the office during this time. I’m very strict controlling our overhead costs and we have saved for “the bad months”. However, we are scared! We feel so badly asking our team to apply for unemployment after April 15 but we no longer have a choice. We have 4 children, 2 in college. Dr. Dawn apparently has no children, just dogs. We don’t have a spouse to lean on to financially pull us through. Sure, we can pray the government will help but realistically, we will have to take out a huge loan to help get by. We’ve worked hard for almost 25 years to get where we WERE before COVID19. We were actually starting to formulate a plan for our estimated retirement in 10 years as our oldest son is starting dental school Fall 2020.

      Take a break?
      Take care of your to-do list?

      With what money?

      While I appreciate Dr. Wehking’s positivity, she is not being realistic at all! The effects of this pandemic will take years to recover.

      • Jordan and Marnie,
        Respectfully, I think you missed the point.
        There are so many resources available to all of us, independent of our financial situation. I’ve chosen to use the resources, stay positive, and enjoy my break.
        How wonderful it must be to have children in your life. I hope you are able to enjoy your time with them and your spouse while you have it. Soon we will be back to work and kicking butt. Cheers!
        Dawn

      • Taking care of your staff can mean many things. Checking in on them to see how they are doing. Helping them navigate what resources may be available to them and their families.

      • Marnie, this is exactly my position here in Australia. In a highly geared practice, income is fairly hand to mouth. Holidays were what we were looking forward to when we retired in 10 years. We are going to have to borrow an amount that would have been enough to buy a ferrari! (Something else we couldn’t afford). Seeing your financial future in tatters, it is hard to find an upside.
        Lucky to be in the position of the OP

  • Agree! One’s personal value does not from work. Take this time to be still and relax.

  • I’m aiming for the sweet spot between, “Relax dude, chill!”, and, “The boats on fire, we’re all gonna die ! “. We are currently living through a historic event and no one really knows what the landscape will look like once this is over, as this is a global and affects every single human being alive.
    Very few of us, particularly staff members, will come out of this financially unscathed. Most of us do not have the financial resources to embark upon major remodeling projects, ski trips, etc. at a time we are just trying to cover our mortgages, car payments, health care premiums and the like. It’s likely we most of us are going to have to work longer than we had planned to, once this is over, and for those of us that have been around a few decades, that is an additional sting.
    But remember it isn’t just the field of dentistry that is/will be affected, COVID-19 is having a severe effect on every other small business that has had to shutter, most without the financial cushions we have, without having specialized needed health care skills to return to. We are far more fortunate than most. In fact, if we make it through this alive and healthy, without losing any friends, family, or co-workers ( who often become our friends and “work family” ) from this, we will be very very lucky indeed. Let’s remember the bigger picture.
    In the meantime, do what you can for self-care, and reach out to your teams as well. If you can help people financially, do so. If you can’t , you can still make your staff know you care; text them, call them, ask them how they are doing, how their loved ones are doing, remind them you value them and want them back when this is over. As a hygienist of over 25 years, I know my employer values me, us, the team, and we’ve all been in contact with each other through this through texts, emails, phone calls, sending little stories/pictures/jokes, sharing food/tips/resources . I love my “work family” and am deeply concerned for them all.
    At the end of the day, remember the bigger picture. This is a global pandemic. Stay healthy, stay alive, make it through this. We will come out on the other side. Together.

    • Hi Kristin! You really hit the nail on the head, I appreciate everything you said. This is hard on all individuals and industries– financially, emotionally, etc. Glad you are taking the time for self care and loving on your work family. 🙂 -Dawn

  • Clelia Ilacqua

    It has been brought to my attention by my residents at the hospital that there is great concern for their employment as dentists. They will be graduating this June with heavy debt loads. What a terrible way to start. They may not be able to take up their new positions as planned. All were hoping to get their debt under control. Now this.
    My hope is that when we return to practice (having adequate ppe ) we will be so busy that they will be needed. How will the insurance companies deal with that deluge? And who will have the discretionary income for dentistry? We will be swamped!
    Good luck to you all.

  • Chelsea Fosse

    LOVE this! Life is simply NOT about dentistry right now. Recognizing that will help the oral health professional community to be accepted into and respected within the overall health care community. We are so overdue for that monumental change.

    On a personal note, I transferred my “to do list that’ll never get done” (which I’ve come to love and appreciate — the never-ending part — thanks to you!) to my fridge. While I have the same struggles as so many to find motivation in today’s world, it’s great to be able to turn to a visual that reminds me of things to be excited about and to work toward. Thank you for imparting your wisdom on us yet again!

    Stay home, stay safe. <3

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