"Do you regret becoming a dentist?
Everyone’s path to becoming a dentist is unique, and some may find that the profession is just not for them. Dentistry is such a stressful job on so many levels. We make a million decisions every day. We have to worry about our clinical skills, running the schedule, reputation management, staff issues, paying the bills, dealing with insurance, and oh, yeah, performing high-quality pain-free dentistry. So it’s easy to see that some dentists can end up doubting or regretting their place in the profession.
How did I get here?
Well, it all started my senior year at Tulane University in New Orleans. I was at the Rendon Inn, watching the band Cowboy Mouth. I went to take a sip from my bottle of beer and — total whiff — missed my lips and chipped my #9 central. I went to a dentist in nearby Metairie, and I was really pleased with the experience.
My dad was also a dentist, and I started to put two and two together. After I graduated and moved home to Boston, I started hanging around his office. In between teaching tennis at Woburn Racket Club, I finished up physics, biology, and the other pre-req classes I was missing. A year later, I was enrolled at Nova Southeastern Dental School.
All phases of dentistry presented their own stressful challenges for me.
As an associate
I was so concerned about what people thought of me, and I wanted everyone to like me. I wanted the owners of the practice, the other dentists, the staff, and of course the patients to like me. I was also focused on making my clinical work perfect. It didn’t help that I looked like I was 12 as a 27-year-old recent grad with a dental degree. However, it’s different as an associate. You are working under someone else’s roof and don’t have any control over the systems, culture, staff but when you leave, you leave.
Transitioning to become an owner
Being an associate forever is not for everyone. In fact, most dentists are owner-operators. But transitioning from associate to practice isn’t always a walk in the park. Finding the right office. Making the leap. Getting representation. Undertaking more debt. All of these factors can be very scary. Do you buy someone out, become a partner, or start a de novo scratch office? These are major decisions that may affect the rest of your career.
As an owner, this is where the real fun begins
Now, when you leave, you don’t actually leave. Even if you’re not in the office, you’re responsible for the staff, and you have to pay the bills to keep the lights on. So as an owner the non-clinical dresses of running a dental practice can follow you home and keep you up at night.
Caution: Dentistry may cause burnout
It is a high-stress job that can drive some practitioners to early burnout or even suicide. In Deals for Dentists Podcast 13, I interviewed Dr. Laura Brenner, a self-proclaimed “recovering dentist” and Certified Professional Coach. Dr. Brenner experienced burnout early on in her career and found herself to be unhappy in the profession. After a few changes in jobs and offices, she finally called it a career after 10 years. She now focuses on helping other dentists.
Her company, Lolabees Career Coaching, helps dentists work through their burnout or even change careers. She also hosts virtual networking conferences that help dentists discover non-traditional and non-clinical careers for dentists.
How isolation affects mental health
When you’re in school, you and your classmates are in the trenches together, and there’s camaraderie and peer engagement.
Once you graduate, dentistry can be a very isolating profession, especially for solo practitioners. We’re in our own little bubble.
Peer to peer engagement is a must. You want to be happy when you go to work and come home. But people outside of the profession don’t quite get what we are dealing with day in and day out.
Introvert vs. extrovert
I am an introvert so I re-energize myself after social interactions by decompressing by myself and needing quiet times. Going from patient to patient takes a lot out of me. We need to be social and put on that happy face. Your patients can’t know that you are stressed. I try to make them feel like they are the only ones in the office today, but this is not easy for me. In fact, it’s totally exhausting.
You are not alone
I know now that there are a lot of other dentists who felt like I did. Thank goodness there are professionals like Dr. Brenner.
“I help dentists see how their thinking patterns might be creating more pressure and therefore more burnout,” she says.
Dr. Laura Brenner coaches dentists one-on-one so they can create a plan of action to become happier. Maybe that means changing their schedule to work two days a week or finding non-clinical or nontraditional careers in or out of dentistry. “If we can change that,” she says. “We can take on less stress from practice and feel freer to design the life we really want.”
Now I am back to enjoying going to work every day. How did I do this?
Well, it wasn’t easy or quick. After a lot of soul searching, I finally pulled the trigger and went to a local therapist. We found out the core reasons for my anxiety and unhappiness with my office as well as outside stressors. And we found the right combination of medications.
Exercise is so important. I started getting back into my favorite pastime, tennis. Started listening to more self-help podcasts and music.
But what really made the difference was: “It just doesn’t matter”
Like that chant in the movie Meatballs with Bill Murray in the early 1980s: “It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.”
[...] I stopped caring about what people thought.
I also stopped doing procedures that stressed me out or working on patients that I didn’t want to work on.
As an associate, I felt I had to treat everyone and do everything.
Well, not now. Not anymore.
The first thing to realize is that you are not alone. As I got more established in my career, I gained more confidence in my clinical abilities and patient and staff interactions, and just started focusing on myself and not what others thought of me.
And happiness doesn’t just happen. Sometimes you need to take action. Help is out there. You just need to reach out."