Betsy Shapiro: Welcome to the American Dental Association practice podcast, Beyond the Mouth, where we won't discuss clinical dentistry, but everything else is fair game. I'm Dr. Betsy Shapiro, a director with the Practice Institute of the American Dental Association. In this episode, we're talking about life balance in dentistry with newish dentist Dr. Erinne Kennedy.
Here are five fun facts about Dr. Kennedy. She's a 2015 graduate Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine, with both a DMD degree and a Master's in Public Health. She then spent a year doing a DPR at a VA hospital in Baltimore. Most recently she was awarded a certificate in Dental Public Health from Harvard. And then she started to pioneer a new degree from Harvard as she seeks her Master's in Dental Education, a brand new program for them.
In between all of this, she works at a federally qualified health center in Boston and never stops giving back as a mentor, a volunteer in organized dentistry and serving on a few editorial boards. I told you I'd give you five facts and I just did. Here's a bonus. She actually has a real life. In no particular order: she likes to exercise, she loves her family and her church and she mentioned something about a place called The Flower Bakery, which we might have to ask her about when we get to the travel part of this episode. Erinne, welcome to the show.
Erinne Kennedy: Hi Betsy. Thanks so much for having me today.
Betsy Shapiro: We are delighted to have you. I'm very pleased you could find time to fit us in. But that's what we're going to talk about, how you find time to fit everything in. And how you master staying healthy and being productive and doing all this good that you're doing.
Erinne Kennedy: All right. Let's get started.
Betsy Shapiro: I know that you have parents who are both in the dental industry and the profession. Can you talk a little bit about that and then how you got into dental school? What made you decide to choose that direction?
Erinne Kennedy: Absolutely. So my dad is a dentist and my mom is a dental hygienist and his office manager. And actually my uncle is also a dentist and all three of them graduated from the Ohio State Dental School back in the 80s. I grew up in a really small town called Middleport in Southern Ohio. I'm right on the Ohio River. And so from my early childhood I obviously spent a lot of time in a dental office. But it really wasn't until I was in college, high school, college that I decided that I wanted to become a dentist.
My parents really drove into me that education is something that nobody could take away from you. And so from a really early time in my childhood slash life, I knew that I wanted to continue and be a part of the education process, whether that was in medicine or whether it was in dentistry. And when I was in high school, I started going on mission trips to the Dominican Republic. And actually it was through that service that I realized that I wanted to become a dentist, not only to serve people abroad to countries, communities abroad, but also to serve people in my backyard and the people that I call diverse. And so that's when I decided to become a dentist.
Betsy Shapiro: I have a very critical question, because I too had a parent who was a dentist and I too worked in their dental office when I was in high school. Did you have to clean the bathrooms in the office?
Erinne Kennedy: I did. Oh my gosh, thank you for bringing that up! Because I had like the scutwork job actually. And for, it was probably four summers, between high school and college that I worked in their office. And they had all of these dental assistants and staff members that were all young women and they all happened to get pregnant and go on maternity leave. Like during the summer, like, I don't know if this is all planned, but I was always working. So I worked full time every summer in their office and I always had to clean the bathroom and take out the trash.
Betsy Shapiro: Me too. It was a gratifying feeling for me when I got to go back and actually be the dentist and say to someone else, "Could you please go clean that bathroom." I also still ended up doing it from time to time, as a dentist, when it needed to be cleaned.
Erinne Kennedy: Well actually looking back on it, it was a huge leadership moment for me. Because when I started leading my own office, I had already done all of the really tough jobs. And so it's really easy for me to jump in and say, “hey, let me help you with that.” Or “Hey, let me show you how we can do this better," or whatever the case may be. So from a leadership perspective, doing all of the jobs along the way, it just helped me grow as a leader. And there's a book actually about that that I love and it's a great tip for any like young dentists, newish dentists out there. And it is, “You Don't Need A Title To Be A Leader.” It's a fabulous book. And I think it drives the point home about cleaning the bathrooms no matter where you are in an organization, no matter where you are in your office, you can make an impact as a leader. And that's something that I kind of took home from that experience.
Betsy Shapiro: Oh, that's excellent. I love that there's actually a book that relates to our shared experiences of filing records endlessly and cleaning bathrooms. So...
Erinne Kennedy: Oh yes, the filing records and I don't know if anyone's going to recognize this, but does anybody remember the pride way of organizing your chart?
Betsy Shapiro: Oh, I am absolutely certain there are a fair number of people who remember the pride way of organizing your charts.
Erinne Kennedy: So I am a master pride organizer. I can assemble charts super quickly and I've been doing it since I was about five.
Betsy Shapiro: You're about ready to retire then. That's how you'll achieve ultimate work life balance. So let's talk a little bit about dental school. I know you did a lot of volunteering there, but you managed to come out with both your dental degree and your Master's in Public Health. So what speaks to you about involvement in service and still making it through it all?
Erinne Kennedy: You know, I tell students this all the time. I said, "You're going to pay a lot for your dental education. It's going to be fabulous, but you're going to learn the most outside the four walls of your dental school." And that was really true for me. I had to be really great at managing my time when I was in dental school because I was involved in ASDA. I was involved in creating a bunch of organizations at my dental school. My fourth year of dental school, I was our class president and I really helped us work through the board exam and make a bunch of changes that year. And I spent a lot of weekends away from dental school because I was traveling for either ASDA or some other form of organized dentistry. And what I learned so much during that time was it's so important to be involved.
And I remember one of my leaders saying, "Well, you can't make a change if you don't have a seat at the table." And I think that really rings true, especially for women in leadership. We need to have more women in leadership. We need to have more women sitting at the table because that's how we can make change and create change and have our voice heard. So for me it was something that I made a priority to be involved. And it started out with ASDA and when I was a second year, they needed a lunch and learn coordinator and it was kind of the low level job. One because it required a lot of work. Two, it required you to coordinate and bring all this food in all the time and then you'd have to dispose of all the food. And it was just, it was a lot of logistics and I had no idea. I was naive and I was like, "Oh, sign me up for anything," I just said yes.
That's how I ended up getting involved. And of course like anything, I went crazy with the role and we ended up having like 50 or 60 lunch and learns that year. And what was hilarious is that the end of it, I ended up sitting, I think in the Dean's office with like all of these other people because I had overtaken the lunch calendar. You know, I'd had taken up too many spots. And I was really proud of what we did that year in ASDA and I just wanted people to know about things outside of school.
You know, if there was a product we didn't use their company, we weren't involved in. My philosophy was get as much knowledge as you can and learn how to make good decisions early on in your career. And I knew that required exposure to things outside of maybe what we were taught in dental school. And so I fell in love with organized dentistry through lunch and learns.
Betsy Shapiro: That's a perfect story. And I think it prepared you well probably for getting involved in your local dental society where your first job usually is either scheduling the restaurants or picking the topics for CE. So you're way ahead of everybody else. You have a dossier, a Rolodex ready to go.
Erinne Kennedy: You know, it was crazy. I just went back to my Alma mater, NSU this past week for their white coat ceremony. And I ended up sitting next to a couple of members of organized dentistry and we looked at each other and we just hit it off. And I feel like when I walk into a room anywhere in Florida, I have so many contacts. And to be honest with you, it's wonderful because I then meet students who need to find a dentist in this area or need a company to provide this in that area. And I can give a warm handoff.
And so I really loved my time. And I think it taught me how to network, which for some students it's really hard when you first start out to talk about networking and to be able to introduce yourself and to get involved. And so, I don't know, if you're a new dentist or if you're a dental student and you struggle with networking, being involved as a lunch and learn chair is probably one of the best exercises in growing that I think you could have.
Betsy Shapiro: Thank you for that. You mentioned earlier that you just said yes and that's how you got started. I think sometimes for as accomplished as you are and for as much as you packed into those four years, saying yes can have challenges as well. Did you run into any stumbling blocks or can you describe any challenges that came through for you particularly as you went through those four years?
Erinne Kennedy: Absolutely. Saying yes is probably my greatest strength and my greatest weakness at the same time. If I'm completely honest. I'm a go getter. I like to get things started. I'm kind of an igniter. I can get a lot of energy around the topic. But you can find yourself as a leader when you say yes all the time, especially when I was in dental school, all of a sudden you realize you're let's say the president of three different organizations. And you kind of have to sit back and question yourself like, am I making an impact when I'm so divided or my time is so divided. And so it takes a lot of humility to then say no or even pass that responsibility on to somebody else, because many times it's something you're super passionate about. But what I found is sometimes you can make the most impact when you start pruning things.
And so actually my 2018 word of the year was flourish. And part of my journey through flourish has been to like prune projects. Prune maybe organizations or things that I'm involved with and even research projects and kind of prune it back to like a core of things that I really want to be involved in and be committed to. And I think that's something that every leader learns along the way. And it's still, even once you've learned the lesson, I think it's something that you feel challenged with because you want to say yes to everything. But sometimes you have to pick and choose.
Betsy Shapiro: Well I think the gardeners and the farmers in the audience are going to wholeheartedly applaud you because you did just hit on the nail for getting the best fruit and vegetables was pruning back and then concentrating in in one area. But was it scary the first time you let something go?
Erinne Kennedy: Oh, absolutely. And just to bring in social media for everyone who's really young and in the millennial crowd, I think sometimes you can see people around you always posting their best moments. And sometimes you feel like you need to continue to post more best moments. Right? And so for me, when I started saying no, at first you start to think like, "Oh, well, am I doing enough?" You know, now that I said no. And so you have to fight that urge to continue to say yes and just let where you've planted yourself. Kind of if I want to keep going on with this, this growth thing. But if you want yourself to grow, you just kind of have to be patient right after you start saying no. And what I can say if I'm honest, when I was in dental school, I didn't do that well.
I remember, I pruned a bunch of things and then like two months later I had said yes to a bunch of more things. And it took me some time to realize what that looked like for me and how many yeses I could have maybe in a season of my life. And that comes from knowing yourself and reflecting on yourself. So yes, it was totally scary. It was really frightening. There's a term called FOMO, fear of missing out. And I definitely had that at first. But as I grew in wisdom and experience, I realized that that pruning and saying no was actually the best thing for me and that's when I could be the best leader for others.
Betsy Shapiro: Did anyone or anything in particular help you gain that self-knowledge or was it just taught innately through taking your licks and figuring out you can fit everything in the day?
Erinne Kennedy: A lot of it was my dad actually. He takes life a little bit slower than I do. And for the longest time he would say you've got to pick something to take back. You've got to rein it in Erinne. And it kind of took beating it into my head to figure it out. But a lot of it came from self-reflection too. You know, when you do prune back and you realize, "Oh, things are going better." Oh I feel like I can breathe, I'm much less stressed, or I'm bringing my best self every day to school or work or your family. That's when that positive reinforcement happens. And I feel like it helps perpetuate that good behavior or that thing know when it's needed.
But for me it's, it's been a lot of self-reflection, realizing what worked and what didn't work. And also realizing that you don't have the impact that you want to make if you're not able to put the time in. And for somebody like me, I really want to make an impact. And so it helps me make good decisions when I realized that taking a step back is actually making a better impact.
Betsy Shapiro: Erinne, it sounds like you were able to self-identify challenges, learn how to say no and step back a bit. But I think for some students and some practicing dentists, that's a little difficult to know what to do or to actually see when you have a need. Do you have any bits of advice that you might share along those lines?
Erinne Kennedy: Absolutely. I remember when I was a senior in dental school and I was on a flight back to Fort Lauderdale with my mom. And I remember just crying and saying, "I can't do this. I can't keep up." And that's when I first realized that one, I probably felt a little bit burnt out. And two, I probably needed some help and some resources. And three, that's when I started to learn to say no.
And at that time looked around and I saw all of these leaders and I wanted to be better. I wanted to be more. Honestly, I wanted to be who God designed me to be. And so I knew this was going to require change. And so I actually reached out to my school, they offered free counseling services that helped me identify things that I could say no to perhaps and learn to respond maybe in a better way.
And so since then I have encouraged so many students to reach out and utilize counseling services at their school. So many schools have it mandated where it's free or it's included with your health insurance. And so, if you can reach out, I know there's a huge stigma around having a counselor. But there isn't a huge stigma around having a personal trainer. And one helps you work on having your best physical fitness. And the other one helps you have your best mental fitness and you need both as a leader. And so don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
Betsy Shapiro: That is a perfect analogy, thank you. Erinne how do you balance your life now?
Erinne Kennedy: Well, first I want to share with you a little bit about what I think about the word balanced. When I was in residency, I was so frustrated because I felt like I was not balanced. And so I came to terms with the fact that balance is an illusion. And there is a really great leader who also has a podcast, his name is Craig Rochelle. And I listened to this podcast all the time, but in episode 13 there's this great quote that I hope all of the listeners can just kind of like take in. And he basically says balance is an illusion. And if you're striving for balance, you're always going to be frustrated. But really, that balance is all about being faithful to that season of life. And so you have to just learn to respect the season that you're in. And so right now for me, I'm respecting a season of research.
And so what it means is that I'm not able to do as many lectures or maybe go places on the weekends because I have to make sure that I fulfill all these research requirements and these class requirements. Whereas eight months ago I was traveling almost every weekend around the country visiting students and helping out and that was balance in that season. And I'm sure there's going to be seasons in my life when I get married and have kids and do other things in my life where I'm going to not have an opportunity to be so heavily invested in my research or maybe be invested in my travel.
And so for me, balance is looking at that season. And for me it's semesters because I'm in school, and saying, "Okay, what is my focus this season?" And that's when I came to terms with, okay, I'm balanced because my focus is maybe this, this season and maybe something else the next. And so hopefully that helps someone come to terms with what balance means for them. And maybe look at their life more like a season, than feeling perfectly balanced all the time.
Betsy Shapiro: I like that analogy as well. It's a bit like not going snowshoeing in the middle of the summer. It's not the season so you focus on the other priorities.
Erinne Kennedy: Yeah. And then it also helps you feel really confident with yourself. Right? So if you're sitting in a season and it's your season of maybe sowing into your research. You might look at someone else or compare yourself or something like that and feel like, "Well why am I not traveling? Or why am I not doing this?" Well, it really comes down to focusing on your lane and where you are and keeping your eyes and your blinders on to where you plan to go. And for me that's been really helpful.
Betsy Shapiro: And it incorporates the art of saying no to the things that aren't seasonal.
Erinne Kennedy: Yes. And really it's the practice of saying no, I think I've come to terms with, because it's something that I have to practice all the time. Just like dentistry.
Betsy Shapiro: I think in general dentists have to learn that, we're people pleasers we want to say yes. I know you mentioned in the bonus fact we told about you, you said that you like to exercise. Can you talk a little bit about what you do to stay physically healthy as well as mentally healthy?
Erinne Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely. So 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 and kind of learn more about myself and about just good habits and I looked at other leaders and kind of adopted different things. I eat really well. One of the things that I've done over the years is the Whole 30. And a lot of that is just reflecting back on what makes you feel good. And so I'm always learning about new things that have to do with diet and nutrition and trying new things in my own life. So that's been something that's been a really strong habit in my life is eating well.
And exercise. So I used to be a huge runner when I was in college. But a few things have happened over the years and I don't run as much as I used to. But I do do high intensity workouts. So they're called HIIT workouts. I do that probably four days a week. And then I tried to do yoga like probably once or twice. So those are a few things that I do to keep physically healthy.
As for mentally healthy, I think journaling is key. Right now I have a five year journal, so you write like six lines each day about your day. You can write about your mood, a book that you read, a famous quote, anything that goes on in your day. And you can look back over the five years as you go along and see your progress. But more importantly, you see the things that you thought were a big deal, maybe not be such a big deal. And you see things that seemed really insignificant that built up over time and turned into be a huge blessing. And so for me that journaling has been a great tool.
Also I spend time in meditation and prayer. That's something that I hold really dear to my heart. And I feel like is a really important habit for me. And I also communicate with my family daily. And for others, it's friends, it's mentors, it's someone else in their family that they hold in high regard. But for me it's my family and I feel like that helps me stay grounded. And that's one of my really important habits.
And I would say my last habit for health is my planner. If you don't learn to plan your day and assign time to things and to be punctual, it’s really easy to not make time for exercise or not make time for eating right or make time for other things that are really important to you. And so my planner helps me set my priorities in in a good way.
Betsy Shapiro: I think that's all very admirable. But I do have to say that from my point of view, I'm a little more challenged because I try to plan so that I don't have time for exercise. So I can say, "Oh, I would have, but there wasn't time."
Erinne Kennedy: It is really hard and I have to say, you have to find something that you like to do. So many people that I talked to have a workout that they're like, "Well, I don't enjoy this or I don't enjoy that." And so I think it takes a little bit of experimentation. You know, I have someone that I actually met while I was in dental school. Her name's Maria Puntillo and she has an online exercise group of all of these, like young professional women. And we actually work out online together a few mornings a week at a really early hour, I have to say, like 5:00 AM. But I've got to know these women over the years and it's the accountability I need, but it's also really convenient. And so I guess I've just found something that works for me and that's what I challenge everybody to do. Find something that works for you that you'd like to do because if you don't like it, you will never make time for it.
Betsy Shapiro: You will plan around it actively. That's what you will do. I'm telling you.
Erinne Kennedy: Absolutely.
Betsy Shapiro: So we know where you are now. You're at the Federally Qualified Health Center and you're working on the Master's in Dental Education. What's next?
Erinne Kennedy: So I have a year left in my Master's in Dental Education program. That's probably going to be a combination of education classes, teaching experience, which I have a history of. But you know, adding in like new teaching techniques or getting some more evaluation or reflection on how I teach or how I instruct students and then also research. So Harvard is definitely a heavily based research institution and so continuing to work on some of my research in dental education is what I'll be doing for the next year. And then after that I will be looking for a job.
Betsy Shapiro: That sounds familiar to many of us. That day does come when you have to face the real world. Is there anything in your research that you can share with us that we should be watching for in the next year?
Erinne Kennedy: Definitely. So I'll be working on assessing faculty burnout. Burnout is something that's really common among physicians. There are some studies that show that it's as high as 50% of physicians that face feelings of burnout. And it's really like mental and emotional exhaustion. And some related to compassion fatigue, which is common in healthcare and in any health profession really. And so I'll be looking at, among dental school faculty.
As I've kind of stepped into this role and I've been in higher education for going on 12 years now, which is hard to believe. I've had a lot of mentors that are amazing people, but over time I realized that they're exhausted. That even though they plan, plan, plan, plan, and they get all of these things done between students and their colleagues and research requirements and academic requirements and clinic requirements, it is a very taxing profession. In a good way. A lot of good things come from being a dental school faculty, but also making sure that we have resources that are targeted towards them, whether it's faculty development or mental health and wellness resources, not only for students and post-graduates, but dental school faculty is really important. And so that's something that I'll be looking at this year and looking at what resources and even local faculty development might look like.
Betsy Shapiro: That would be phenomenal. I would imagine, like many of the listeners, a face popped into my head from my dental school days. That was a professor who had exceptional experience and a lot to share but just was burned out and students knew it. We loved him, but we knew how to read that situation. And if you can help the faculty just think how they're going to be able to pass that on to the students. You can change the whole face of the profession Erinne.
Erinne Kennedy: Well that was actually where I came from, or the position that I came from. Because as a student and as a resident, I've been a resident for going on four years now basically after dental school. And I look around at my colleagues and I look at myself and we all experienced burnout at some point in time. And that's been shown through some research that residents are especially prone to having moments of burnout.
And when I graduated dental school, I was actually working with the ADA and looking at some of the dental health and wellness resources. And what I realized is that a lot of this culture of burnout, in a lot of different ways, started while we were in dental school. And I kept thinking "What if we recognized signs of burnout early? What if we had resources? What if we were able to teach good habits to students while they were in dental school so that when they started practice, they didn't wake up in five, 10, 15, or 20 years and say, I'm completely burned out. What do I do?"
And so a part of that piece and part of my journey has been looking at resources for students, but then also realizing that creating that culture of wellness I think is going to start with the dental school faculty. But we can't create a new culture until we understand the current culture. So that's something that I'll be working on for the next year or so.
Betsy Shapiro: That is excellent. And we certainly hope you stay in touch with us here at the ADA because we do have some resources on that topic. But it's such a huge field and we hope to keep expanding what we can offer for all of our students and new graduates and our mid careers too. To help them stay healthy, be healthy, and provide good service to the public.
Erinne Kennedy: Absolutely. I think it's really important. It's definitely one of my passions.
Betsy Shapiro: Was there anything else, Erinne that you wanted to share with us as you look ahead and see where life or the profession might take you?
Erinne Kennedy: Well, I would say my number one passion is helping students and raising up young leaders. And so, I'm asked all the time, "Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?" No matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, I think I'm going to continue to make students my priority. And that's because so many of my mentors made me their priority. And so I think when we look at what the future of dental education looks like, the future of our dental profession, we really need to focus as dentists and continuing to look back and extend a hand and pull up all of those young leaders that we have behind us. Because that's really where the future is.
And so no matter if I'm in a private practice or a health center or a state or federal institution or a school, my focus will be bringing up and raising up more young leaders. Because I just know that I wouldn't be where I am today without some of my amazing mentors. You know, Dean Mason, Dr. Douglas, they both have really impacted my life and helped me be where I am today. And so I just know that my number one goal and passion is going to be helping students.
Betsy Shapiro: Well, kudos to all your mentors. Because it sounds like they've done a very good job. I am not sure if it's because you are an eager student or they were excellent mentors, but it seems to be working out pretty well for you.
Erinne Kennedy: Well, my mom always said when I was growing up, she's like, "You know what? The number one thing you need to have in life is perseverance." She's like, just continue to show up day after day, no matter how hard it gets. And there is a lot of days where all you can do is show up. You know, whether you're a student or a new dentist, there are some tough days ahead of you or you probably already experienced some tough days.
And I just feel like, I don't know if you've read the book Grit by Angela Duckworth, but it's an amazing book. It's an amazing story. And I feel like so many young dentists that I meet and really students as well, I think one of our number one qualities is grit. That ability to just have passion and perseverance day in, day out and just to continue to show up. And so I don't know if you're listening to this and you feel like you have so many steps to go until you reach your goal or your dream, I want to encourage you that it's really about just stepping up day after day. And actually there's a super great quote about that by Abraham Lincoln and he said, "I'm a slow walker but I never walk back." And I think that's something that if just continue to take one step forward each and every day, you will definitely have the career of your dreams.
Betsy Shapiro: I think that's a perfect message to end this with Erinne and we'd like to thank you for spending so much time with us and sharing some of your person with us. It's been fantastic.
Erinne Kennedy: Well, it's been my absolute pleasure and I look forward to chatting with you again.
Betsy Shapiro: Well, when Erin is not doing dentistry or studying or exercising or eating at the Flower Bakery, she does write and edit articles for a variety of websites including Dental Economics and Dental Entrepreneur Woman. Dental Economics can be found at dentaleconomics.com and Dental Entrepreneur Woman is at DEW.life.
Now we're at the part of the show where we answer a question we've received from a member. In the Practice Institute here at the American Dental Association we answer member questions every single day and wanted to share one we've received with all of you. To help us we've recruited Katie Call. Katie works with the Center for Professional Success at the ADA and is very often the voice or fingers behind the answers you get to your phone calls or emails. So here's the question, Katie. I'm a new dentist just appointed to a local dental society component committee and I have absolutely no clue how to run a meeting or even how to participate correctly. Do you have anything where I can learn more about this process?
Katie Call: Thank you, Betsy. The answer is yes. The ADA has created a series called ADA Leadership Institute, which is made up of a variety of videos and downloadable resources. They cover all aspects of leadership. The content is available free to ADA members and the topics range from understanding your legal obligations as a board member all the way through hitting the ground running as your first 100 days as president. Once you reach that point. The Leadership Institute includes free CE for members as long as it fits under the permitted topics defined by your state board. And even though the series speaks to dental leadership, much of it is applicable for all areas of life and leadership, whether it's your local parent teacher association or running for elected office on a national level.