As we enter a new year, it’s a time of hope and resolutions for 2021. For many new dentists and their dental teams, these resolutions can include both personal and professional wellness resolutions. As the profession continues to feel the impact of COVID-19, dentists and their teams are seeking new ways to practice self-care, mental health wellness and overall wellbeing.
The Beyond the Mouth podcast series explores a range of non-clinical issues affecting dentists and their teams over 24 podcasts. Several of these podcasts include discussions with experts on how dentists can increase self-care and staff-care during COVID-19 and beyond. These four podcasts are worth a listen, or revisiting, as you set your wellness goals for 2021.
Dr. Erinne Kennedy shares how dividing her time between classes, clinicals and coordinating student dental activities taught her the importance of planning her day and finding work/life balance. As the first graduate from the MMSc in Dental Education program at Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 2019, she had to learn how to say no to increase her focus and maintain her wellness.
“I have quite a few self-care habits, and I didn't add them all at once. It was something that I kind of added over the years as I learned more about myself and about just good habits and I looked at other leaders and kind of adopted different things,” she said.
Dr. Kennedy offers several ideas and tips for finding balance and practicing self-care in the podcast “What I Learned About Myself in Dental School”:
1) Pruning activities and learning when to say no can increase focus on those activities that are most meaningful to you while also increasing the impact you can make.
2) School counselors can be an invaluable resource of support in many areas of student life, not just school related.
3) Focus only on the season and life-event you’re in at that moment – whether classes, research, work or travel; it’s okay not to have balance between all of these at the same time because it will soon change.
4) Some days, showing up is enough. When things get hard and you’re feeling off or feeling like you’re not succeeding, keep showing up.
The Burnout Episode
Did you know that the definition of burnout has been updated from one of stress syndrome to instead be defined as chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed? In this recent podcast, Dr. Bill Claytor and Dr. Jim Willey share their research on burnout and tips for creating a healthy practice environment.
Dr. Claytor lectures throughout the United States on many topics, including burnout, and writes for many dental and online publications on the topic. Dr. Willey, who retired from the American Dental Association in 2019, led the interagency team that created the ADA Center for Professional Success.
“The thing that I would like to stress, for me, as far as burnout is that when your body tells you there's something wrong, it's time to listen,” Dr. Claytor said. “I like the term, listen to your body. When you wake up in the mornings and you dread going to work, you dread the conflict at the office, the interaction with the staff; those kinds of things are not normal. You need to get help.”
They share methods for determining your individual level of burnout and ways to prevent it in this podcast:
1) Burnout is not a weakness. Burnout is an opportunity to change because you recognize something's not right in your relationships, in your work or in your sense of purpose.
2) Asking for help can be difficult but should be considered as an opportunity to change and improve the situation.
3) A personal mentor or coach outside of dentistry can be a positive resource for reflection, provide a healthy space for discussion and provide meaningful interaction.
4) Lean on your community and begin to open up about your feelings. Doing so will help us all to normalize conversations about feelings, mental health, burnout and what support you need.
Oral surgeon and educator Dr. Emelia Sam shares wellness and mindfulness tips for ensuring both personal and professional success. She reminds dentists that enhancing the overall patient experience requires concurrently addressing wellness for the practitioner.
“We’ve come to a point where we’re all searching for meaning and connection. When it comes to health care, our patients may be looking for something beyond our clinical competence,” she said. “Delivering treatments is not enough, they want to have meaning and fulfillment. We need to create connections; it’s the human element that has previously been missing.”
She stresses the need for dentists to also deliver empathy and care, and the ways to achieve this in the podcast “It’s a Wellness Revolution.” Listen to the podcast to learn more on these strategies:
1) Finding empathy in healthcare starts with self-care at home but also within the office. Your well-being is your foundation – it will serve you well to make sure you’re protecting and nurturing well-being to ensure professional success and also personal success.
2) How you communicate affects how you feel. Self-awareness in how you’re communicating can lead to positive changes in communications with patients and colleagues.
3) Depth and quality of social interactions with patients and colleagues can guard against loneliness within the practice setting, decrease risks for burnout and lead to greater mindfulness.
Alexa James, the CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Chicago, shares how the organization advocates for a more equitable mental health system, one where everyone feels safe and comfortable accessing mental health services. Mental health wellness means that we are able to manage trauma and stress in a way that doesn’t interfere with our work and relationships. Our level of resiliency and ability to cope with stressors can change over time.
While COVID-19 has changed the conversation and decreased some of the stigma associated with mental health and mental illness, she explains that conversations about mental health are still not normalized as part of workplace staff-care. Ms. James encourages dentists to use the morning huddle as a time to check in with each other and develop a culture of coaching and support for mental health.
“Part of wellness is insight. When you allowed to take a moment and think about, that is self-regulating and self-compassion,” she said.
Policies should also be in place for team members to access the support they need, whether insurance, wellness days off or team building.
In the podcast, she offers some additional insights for recognizing and discussing mental health wellness:
• Learning personal signs and symptoms to acknowledge when we feel mentally unwell is a first step for achieving mental health wellness. Only when we know we hurt can we develop coping mechanism and recognize triggers.
• Eating well, reading, being stimulated, pursuing a passion, exercising are examples of self-care techniques we can pull from to change our mindset. Identify and find a safe person in your life – someone who validates you and can have conversations with you to make you feel good.
• You can’t help others if not well yourself, but this doesn’t mean you have to feel great everyday or that it will always be easy. It’s okay to admit to feeling low some days and giving yourself grace.
All of these podcasts, and 20 others on a range of topics affecting dentists and their teams can be streamed from the ADA’s website to set you on a path for wellness in 2021.