Burnout for Dentists: A glaring problem

Burnout for dentists is very real and very serious You may be burned out and not even know it. It’s possible you think you are just having “normal” stress, or even that you are depressed. It is true that these things are not totally mutually exclusive. There is overlap, but they are not the same. Most of us will be burned out at one point in our career. The key is to recognize it and take proper steps to get out of it. Even better would be to realize when you are on the burnout path and take steps to prevent from getting there.

Lucky for me, I don’t think I have ever got all the way to burnout. I have been darn close, but have discovered several things that helped me retreat on the path. Before I get into that, let’s discuss what burnout is.

What is Burnout?

It is hard to give it a straight definition. If you look it up on Dr. Google it says “Burnout is emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress”. It can happen in anyone’s life but is especially apparent in physicians and dentists. This is discussed a lot by physicians. However, it is not discussed nearly enough among dentists. It is very real and prevalent among dentists and we can’t ignore it.

How do you know if you are burnt out?

If you dread going to your job every day it could be because of burnout. Now if you have never liked your job from day one because it doesn’t align with your values, then it could be that you just need a different job. However, I know several people that have liked there job at first and then they dread it. Bottom line is this, if you dread your job, seeing your staff or your patients, then you are probably burned out.

My story of burnout

Like I said before, I don’t know if I have ever been totally burned out. But I have been awfully close but made changes to alleviate it. It is an ongoing battle though. There are still changes I need to make all the time to prevent it.

I have discussed before how I took advantage of some geographic arbitrage and moved. This was mostly to make more money so I could actually pay down my huge debt and start on a path towards financial independence. However, it also alleviated some burn out. I was burnt out at that job continually trying to do whatever I could to have a successful practice. When I went to my new job I had a fresh clean slate and I actually enjoyed going to work again. It was a job that aligned more with my ideal job.

I then bought a second practice in my new location. I did this to try and make even more money to tackle my debt. However, after about 20 months I was feeling burn out again. Sure I could keep working two jobs to get financially ahead but at what expense? I was starting to dread my job again. So I sold one of my practices to stay only at one practice and focus my time there. I then felt relief and wasn’t burn out any more.

Just working one job though doesn’t magically make me not susceptible to burn out. I have felt the symptoms starting to creep in.

Burnout for dentists is a glaring problem. Don’t ignore it.

What I do now to treat and prevent Burnout?

The first thing that has helped my is having my financial life in order. Discovering the White Coat Investor, Physician on Fire and others have done wonders for me. Through WCI’s blog posts, podcast, and online course I now have a plan on how I can become debt free and become financially independent. Not having financial stress makes me much happier at work and makes a me a better dentist honestly. I encourage anyone that is suffering from burnout to start to get your financial ducks in a row and it will help you tremendously. My progress towards becoming debt free has helped me immensely in avoiding burnout.

I also discovered a book by Dike Drummond called “Stop physician burnout”. Now it is obviously geared toward physicians but I was surprised at how applicable it was to me in my situation and to burnout for dentists as a whole. I have implemented some of his tools and they have helped a lot. He has a lot of tools to use but the gist is to help align your real job to your ideal job. The more overlap they have, the more happy you will be at work and the less burnout you will have.

This sometimes may mean changing jobs. It could also mean remaining in your job but doing things to change your situation. If you are the boss, you can change a lot of things to make it align more with your ideal job. If you are an employee, you can get the courage to talk to your boss to make changes for the better.

Consequences of not recognizing and treating burnout

Burnout at work can make you less good at your job. This can lead to lawsuits or other problems. Burnout at work can cause you to be less happy at home as well and hurt your relationships causing divorce and other things that will just make your downhill spiral even worse. And of course, any list of occupations that have the highest suicide rates included dentists and physicians right near the top. I have a close dentist friend that had a gun to his head because of his job. Miraculously someone called him right before he pulled the trigger and convinced him not to do it. The consequences are real and huge. This is not something to take lightly.

Resources for help

Burnout for dentists and physicians is very real and very serious. Anyone who is suffering from it right now, please get help and make steps to change it. If you are not burnout yet but are on the path, I hope you recognize it and take steps to stop it. Even if you are not burnout and don’t feel like you are on the path yet; take steps to prevent even getting on the path.

Some steps to take include making sure you are taking care of your finances. The White Coat investor, and The Physician of Fire are great places to start. Also see my Recommended Resources tab for other books and resources. I would also consider getting Dike Drummond’s book “Stop Physician Burnout”

Here are some blog posts from other bloggers about the subject that have been very helpful for me. The Physician Philosopher is a wonderful blog. He has many posts that will help with burnout so I encourage you to look at his site. Here is one great one. The White Coat Investor also has some good blog posts about the problem. Read them here and here. The White Coat Investor also had a Physician Wellness and financial literacy conference in 2018 with a talk or two about burnout. They were incredible talks and you can find those on the White Coat Investor website.

Final thoughts

Burnout for dentists is a very real problem. I do enjoy being a dentist. However, it can be a very stressful career. In order to have a long and successful career, we all need to take steps to prevent burnout. I encourage you to use the resources I discussed and others to learn more about this problem and to prevent it.

And remember, being in debt will only make your burnout problem worse. So let’s be financially smart and get out of debt together.

-Debt Free DDS

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*Nothing on my website is professional or legal advice. I am only sharing information that I have learned and it may or may not be accurate. I am not liable for any problems you may have by following this advice. Please do further research and get professional and/or legal advice about any of these topics. This post likely contains affiliate links. This site could be paid for clicks or purchases made through these links.

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