How to recognize and overcome burnout in the dental practice

2020 03 04 00 21 8056 Kaweckyj Natalie 20200304004339

Dental assistants help prevent the dentist from becoming burned out, according to 86% of dentists and dental practice administrators surveyed in the DALE Foundation's Value of Dental Assistants to the Dental Practice. Seems a little surprising, doesn't it? Or maybe not.

When a team member with professional burnout demonstrates through their attitudes and actions that they don't want to be at work combined with the symptoms of burnout, the resulting behavior may include the following:

Natalie Kaweckyj.Natalie Kaweckyj.
  • Increased tardiness or absenteeism in the workplace and also with friends and family
  • Feeling more hypercritical or hostile toward others more frequently
  • Passing up opportunities in the workplace, whether it be training, education, or a promotion
  • Daydreaming at work (more than usual, especially after lunch)
  • Feeling unable to disengage from work while at home with family and friends (we all love to talk shop)

Professional burnout commonly runs in several stages from feeling excited about your career to forcing yourself to go to work each morning like it's a perpetual Monday in the movie "Groundhog Day." Most aren't even sure what is wrong at this point or just shrug it off as stress. When allowed to continue, exhaustion leads to increased irritability in a cyclic manner. Burnout often has physical symptoms, including more frequent headaches, changes in appetite, and increased blood pressure. Relationships both outside of the office and at work are going to suffer to varying degrees, depending on your support system.

Burnout results in feelings of hopelessness and resentment. When left untreated, it can escalate to depression or worse. Dental assistants who experience burnout often feel unappreciated and overworked, feel they have too much to accomplish in a limited time, and begin to resent their level of responsibility. Placing unrealistic expectations on yourself also is a factor in burnout. To combat this, try the following:

  • Work and live with purpose and passion. Most of us work to live, but how many of us can honestly say we live to work? If you are truly unhappy, find another dental team to forge new opportunities with. Recognize when that passion has fizzled out. Life is too short to be unhappy all of the time.
  • Analyze workplace tasks. Perform a workplace task analysis, and eliminate, share, or delegate unnecessary tasks. When the burden can be split by team members, no one is exempt from tedious tasks.
  • Practice kindness. We don't see enough of it in society today, and everyone could use a little more of it each day.
  • Manage your time wisely. Remember to pencil in you into your schedule! As we get busier, overwhelming feelings can creep in. Don't overextend yourself and learn to say "no." Try going to bed a half-hour earlier to unwind and just chill.
  • Get more exercise. Just taking a quick step outside for 10 minutes on your lunch break may be enough of a rest button to finish out the day more positively.
  • Learn how to manage stress. Meditate, read, practice yoga, deep breathing, or just unplug. Our stress is often the result of what is going on around us. One of my favorite sayings is "Not my monkeys, not my circus!" or "Respect the bubble!"
  • Be receptive to your own feelings and needs. Check in with yourself throughout the day, and try to respond to your needs as much as possible. Some days we may be needier than others -- and that is OK! And when things get out of control, seek support by talking with someone you trust. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to others.

Natalie Kaweckyj, LDA, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAA, is a past president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) and serves as a senior moderator and key opinion leader for the Dental Peeps Network.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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