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Stresses in dentistry…

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  Posted by: The Probe      15th February 2019

Dr. Andrew Wilson reflects on his own personal challenges and how to stay positive during difficulties.

You didn’t pick the simple option when you decided to be a dentist. No professional career is ever going to be easy. Doctor, teacher, solicitor. Every one of these paths is going to have its own particular problems. Being a dentist is no different. At times it will be hard and it will be stressful.

I believe it’s worth it. I believe that we are all extremely lucky to be a part of this profession; a profession that affords us the opportunity to do meaningful work and be fairly rewarded for it. That said, you’re going to have tough days and weeks.

Being a dentist can be lonely. Many dentists are isolated, sat in their surgeries all day with little contact with colleagues. Everything is down to you. You shoulder the duty of care to your patients. You take responsibility for the treatments that you provide. You carry the can when things go wrong. There is no time that you will feel more isolated than during a ‘crisis’.

A fractured file. A failed extraction. A written complaint. When problems like this arise, they can feel all consuming. They can haunt you, hijack your whole thought process, affecting your every feeling and action.

My awful day

First thing in the morning, I receive a formal complaint sent by special delivery. The fact that it’s been sent by special delivery gives the issue a definite urgency. I can’t get it out of my mind. I’m distracted and because I’m distracted, nothing feels like it’s going well with patients.

I’m stressed, struggling to keep up. I’m clearly tense because my shoulder starts to tighten and ache. I end up working through most of the day in pain but, with the complaint hanging over me, I barely feel any relief when the day comes to an end.

I go home to spend a few hours worrying before the blessed relief of bed time. Unfortunately, catching a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror reveals that today has aged me by 10 years.

Be yourself

That was a day that I had to go through early last year. It was one of the most unpleasant days I have had at work and you are bound to have similar experiences at some point. We will all go through days and weeks, maybe even months like that. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, it can feel like there is no way out. You can feel stuck, overwhelmed with no light at the end of the tunnel, no resolution in sight.

But what happens? In reality, any crisis is temporary. Time roles, the situation improves and you come out of the other side.

So when you’re in the middle of a crisis, the good news is this. To become a dentist, you have to be an intelligent, caring, determined individual. Therefore, when faced with a problem, all you have to do is be yourself. Be that emotionally intelligent person that you are. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a deep breath and give yourself the time that you need to deal with the situation. Do what’s required of you to the best of your abilities and put things right.

No matter the situation, time will roll on, things will blow over and you will come out of the other side. You will still be that highly skilled professional that you were before. You will still be you.

Remember where we started the article. Being a professional is tough. There will be countless challenges to overcome over your career. But you wouldn’t have got this far if you weren’t capable of dealing with these bumps in the road.

Think of the thousands of hours that you have dedicated to study, practise, developing your skills. You are capable of amazing things. You are able to offer huge value to your patients through the care that you provide. The vast majority of your patients understand this and it’s vital that you understand it too.

What’s at stake?

What is really at stake in the middle of a crisis? This is an interesting question and I’ll give you my opinion.

The majority of the time, the answer is ‘nothing’. Nothing is really at stake. Do your best, be yourself and you will be able to move past these temporary problems. It will be stressful and sometimes it will be very unpleasant. But it will not be able to diminish you. It will not be able to diminish your worth, your personal value.

As dentists, we are face to face with patients every day. We are accountable for their care and often have to shoulder the responsibility when things go wrong. Inevitably, things will go wrong and, even when problems arise through no fault of yours, it will be stressful. Just remember to do your best and be yourself. You will emerge from the other side as the same brilliant individual that you were before. In fact, you’ll probably be better off. You’ll be able to look back with perspective and see any temporary blip for what it really was. And you will realise that you are all the stronger for having been through it.

About the author

Dr Andrew Wilson is a general dentist working in Central London and former winner of National Young Dentist of the Year at the Dental Awards. He is the author of The Art of Dentistry blog.


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