Is it Time to Make Some Changes?
By: Dr. Allen Vean
What will you tell your children, grandchildren, and hopefully your great-grandchildren about the events of the last fourteen months? What an incredible part of American history we have all witnessed. Unfortunately, this part of history that has affected our profession is not quite over.
As we progress to some sort of herd immunity with vaccinations and other precautions, the effects of the pandemic are still with us. The patient that refuses to comply with CDC guidelines, staff that are unsure about being vaccinated, employees testing positive for COVID-19, and a one-star review on social media out of the blue are just a few of the multiple issues that confront us.
To say that we live in a high-stress and anxiety environment is probably an understatement. Add to that the events of the last fourteen months and one has a recipe for potential disaster. We strive for perfection. That is our nature. Most of us love our profession and do the right thing for our patients. However, many of us who have practiced for any length of time, know that many times this is not achievable. The causative factors involved are too numerous to list. How one deals with these issues can be the difference between a successful career or just going through the motions. Let me tell you some of my story and perhaps you can take a way a few pearls (as they say in dental education).
I was fortunate to have a dental education that was quite positive. I have no horror stories from dental school. I knew that I would specialize in pediatric dentistry at some point in my career. The realization came when I fabricated a new set of dentures for my great aunt who had worn the same dentures for 30 years (bad decision). She came to the office every two weeks for an adjustment, whether she needed it or not. At one appointment she had her newly fabricated maxillary denture in place with her old mandibular denture and wondered why her bite was off. I thanked her for coming and that night completed my application to a pediatric residency in Minnesota.
My family history is one of short-lived genes. My mother passed at age 49 and my father passed at age 62. I had entered a profession I truly enjoyed and cherished the interactions between the children, young adults, and parents knowing that I might make a small difference in their lives. But I was not going to let my career dictate my life. For example, the practice established office hours so I was able to attend most of my children’s extracurricular events and take time for me. The staff loved the schedule as they were able to spend more time with their families as well. Did I lose patients because of this policy? Did I forfeit income? Of course, but how many times have patients wanted that last appointment of the day and then called five minutes before the appointment time and cancelled or even worse, failed to show up all together. Our nature is to be giving. We have a difficult time saying no. I found the practice took on the culture of myself and the staff. When you come to the realization you cannot treat everyone, you are left with a practice of patients who appreciate you and the dentist-patient relationship becomes quite strong. Funny thing, these patients refer the same kind of patients to the practice. Patient care was always the priority. In addition, my philosophy included not being the richest dentist in the cemetery.
Although I do not have hard statistics, I am concerned with the number of dentists who are experiencing burnout or wanting to leave the profession after ten to fifteen years of practice. Is striving for perfection and the anxiety of trying to please all a driving force? Did the pandemic exacerbate the situation? Some are questioning whether they made the right choice of dentistry as a profession and are struggling daily. I have not even addressed the financial issues that come with the life of a dentist. I am certain that the mental health issues that have enveloped our profession during this time will be with us for an extended period. Please be assured that we are here to help. Making that contact with the MDDS or CDA
may be the first step.
For all dental professionals, we and your patients need you. Are there changes in your personal and or professional life that would help? I know I had peers who acted as mentors to me. I was truly grateful for their guidance and direction. They were not only my peers but dear friends, not competitors. Reach out to peers. You might be surprised how much you have in common. Take care of yourself and your family both mentally and physically. You are no good to anyone when you are not in a good place. Be aware we are human and are not perfect. How you deal with the imperfections is so much more important. I hope you consider some of these changes.
As a postscript, please accept deep thanks to all of you who have participated in becoming vaccinators. I, too, have been certified by the state and have been doing assignments when asked. It has been an honor to work with such dedicated volunteers. Hopefully, we may be able to vaccinate our patients in the near future.
Dr. Allen Vean is a retired pediatric dentist and co-editor of the MDDS Articulator magazine. Dr. Vean is a long-time member of organized dentistry and owned a private practice for over 30 years in Denver, CO. In addition to volunteering with MDDS, he donates his time to a number of community organizations including Special Olympics Colorado.