As research indicates, over one in four dentists are reportedly at high risk of burnout. Why do you think it is such a big issue in the dentistry profession?
In today’s age, where patients and clinicians have access to essentially the same amount of information, and in a more highly litigious society, the nuances of practising dentistry in the 21st century has gotten more complex. Coupled with social media showing us amazing dentistry and highlight reels every day, you begin comparing the best of what you see with the worst of what you may be experiencing. The most common trait I believe most dentists have which can predispose us to burnout is perfectionism. We strive to do things perfectly, and that can foster a mindset of finding flaws in everything you do.
What are some of the signs and symptoms of burnout you think dentists should be aware of?
Burnout often presents as a sense of helplessness or hopelessness which can lead to detachment of ideals, motivation, and hope. Burnout can also be presented as feelings of dread about going to work or feeling like life isn’t worth living. Feeling dread about going to work or feeling like you want to quit dentistry because it’s all getting too overwhelming can be signs you are burning out.
Burnout was included in the 11th Revision of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in 2019 and is summarily classified as ‘a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’
What were the avenues you took to address the issue?
Given I had hit rock bottom, I no longer wanted to experience this low feeling and wanted a way out of my mess. This opened the door to a deep dive into a transformative personal development journey, where for six months, with the help of some coaches and mentors, I used mindset tools to find balance and harmony in my career and my life. The biggest step was having the courage to share what was going on in my mind with my practice manager and other dentists in my practice. When I shared what they were already noticing, I truly got the support I needed.
What steps would you recommend for young dentists and students to prevent or address burnout?
I have three main tips to prevent or overcome burnout, which revolves around shifting your mindset and applying new habits:
- Choosing progress over perfection: instead of striving to do things perfectly, aim to be just a little bit better today than you were yesterday. This takes the pressure off trying to be perfect and shifts the focus to incremental improvement.
- Trading expectation for appreciation: instead of saying “I have to do this” or “I’m expecting this outcome”, say “I get to do this” and “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help this patient”. Practising gratitude is one of the simplest but most effective ways of overcoming stress, anxiety, and burnout.
- Being graceful with your growth: Recognising that if we are going to dismantle our perfectionism, then when we take on a new growth journey to expect to make mistakes. When we give ourselves the grace to not expect a linear improvement we are less likely to spiral down when things don’t go to plan.
It’s important to prioritise your mental health and wellbeing during these challenging times. You can reach out to a colleague who understands your situation (I'm always available to listen if you reach out to me!) or through services such as Dental Practitioner Support; a 24/7, free, confidential phone hotline for all Australian dental professionals. Find out more at https://www.dpsupport.org.au/ or call 1800 377 700.
You can find out more about how Dr Tchia is supporting his fellow dentists to prevent or overcome burnout through @TheLimitlessDentist on social media.
JCU students can access support to help cope with stress, address mental health concerns and access professional help. The Australian Dental Association offers support for practitioners by connecting them with a range of mental health services.
1 P. Singh , D. S. Aulak et al., Systematic review: factors contributing to burnout in dentistry, Occupational Medicine 2016;66:27–31
2 C. Sotomayor-Castillo, C. Li, K. Kaufman-Francis et al., Australian dentists’ knowledge, preparedness, and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, Infection, Disease & Health, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.idh.2021.10.001