By: Shannon Patterson, CPR, CMSR
Kolbe Certified™ Consultant
Director of Practice Opportunities
Practicing orthodontics is an important and rewarding career path that attracts some of the nation’s brightest and most driven individuals. Unfortunately, it is also an increasingly challenging and stressful profession with a high rate of job burnout. Sadly, through the years our firm has been involved with transitions that lost an orthodontist due to suicide, and it’s absolutely heart-wrenching. Something I have noticed in the last year is that burnout is on the rise for younger orthodontists and even residents due to financial stressors, student loans, uncertain work future, and the ever-changing dental landscape.
Let’s start with understanding why dental providers are more prone to professional burnout, anxiety, and depression. Two major reasons are the nature of their practice and their personality traits. Orthodontists work in a high risk and emotionally charged profession, characterized by long hours and physical demands, but most importantly many of you have a self-imposed unrealistic demand for precision and perfectionism. A research study conducted on dentists based on the Meyers Briggs personality test showed that dental providers tend to be ISTJ or ESTJ, which are often considered to be the “type A” personalities. Don’t take that the wrong way, that “type A” personality is what got you through years of a demanding education but also means you may be more likely to experience burnout.
Burnout Syndrome is characterized by emotional exhaustion, loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of depersonalization, and a low sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take years to develop this syndrome, younger doctors, and even residents can experience these feelings. Staying self-aware and learning to identify the emotional, physical, and behavioral signs of burnout will help, the most common symptoms of burnout are:
• Loss of motivation
• Feeling helpless, trapped, or defeated
• Increased cynical or negative outlook
• Decreased satisfaction or sense of accomplishment
• Feeling tired and drained most of the time
• Tiredness that does not respond to adequate rest
• Withdrawal from responsibilities
• Isolating from others
• Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early
How can you combat burnout? First, do not be reluctant to ask for help or more importantly be ready to offer support to a colleague who is showing signs of burnout. At some point in your dental career, you will experience burnout and it is important to remember this does not make you a bad or weak leader/orthodontist. What you are experiencing is temporary and treatable and you should not fear negative professional repercussions for seeking guidance and mentorship if you are struggling with these feelings. There are excellent self-assessment tools on the internet that can help you recognize whether you are suffering from burnout, just google “professional quality of life scale”. The assessments are often free and can give you valuable insight into your current state of mind.
As a new orthodontist, you can be proactive as you start your career by remembering that burnout is easier to prevent than to treat, so practice self-care and recognize the symptoms. If you start to feel twinges of procrastination, exhaustion and isolation seek guidance whether it’s with books, podcasts a mentor or a friend find a way to inspire yourself to get back on track and back to doing what you love “straightening one smile at a time”!