Finding a Healthy Balance

Finding a Healthy Balance

Julie E. Clouse, D.D.S.*:

Heads Up, Hands On
The New Dentist Committee has been working on a survey that will be sent out this fall to all new dentists. We will be collecting information on balancing dentistry and life outside of dentistry, as well as how the MDA may provide resources to manage these challenges. When it arrives, please take a few minutes to help us gather this important information!

Stress evolves as one progresses from dental school's inception to the life of practicing dentist. I remember restless nights and accompanying nausea before gross anatomy examinations. And like me, you probably remember your first operative patient with gritty (almost ridiculous) detail. I was pretty sure that my thumping heart was visible under my scrubs - if not, my sweaty brow was probably a dead give-away. Those challenges were always met with instant relief after finishing the assigned task.

But the nature of stress changes over time, doesn't it? As we move into our professions, we worry about providing for our families, staff and co-workers, practices, resources, equipment, investments, and patients. The dental procedures that used to be so harrowing have become second nature. Thinking that things would be so easy after dental school has turned into a realization that stressors have just matured. Unfortunately, these are the worries that are deep-seated, visceral, and prone to never really disappearing. And so dentists must learn to effectively manage our stressors so that they can be labeled healthy stressors and encourage us to work harder and smarter, rather than pull us down and be dangerous to our health.

I have been corresponding with 12 other new dentists during the past week. We have been discussing how we deal with the emotional stressors of being a dentist. There were several overwhelming responses that ring true regardless of your stage in the dental profession.
Dental Support System. All the new dentists I talked to said that they had a confidante with whom they could discuss any aspect of practice. Several said that they were lucky to be married to another dentist; their support system was available daily. Others noted that it was important to have someone outside the family, but still dentally knowledgeable, to be a truly non-biased sounding board. Just this week I had breakfast with three other dentists. We discussed current issues and blew off a little steam. The eggs were good, but not as good as it felt to have my concerns validated and discussed.

Exercise. Nearly all dentists surveyed stated that they exercise regularly in order to keep themselves balanced. Stress can manifest as aches and pains, not to mention the strain that dentistry places on the body. Golf, yoga, and jogging are popular options that helped dentists to relax while clearing the mind. Walking a pet is a good way to exercise and spend time with a friend. I myself like to go on occasional cleaning rampages, scrubbing floors and vacuuming everything in site. It can get the heart rate up and help me catch up on dreaded housework. There isn't a day now that we aren't reminded to exercise daily, regardless of occupation or age.

Get Away. Don't think about dentistry! Play an instrument, join a sports team, go on a vacation, volunteer - but try to leave work at work. Getting away from dentistry helps us to realize that our problems may not really affect our lives to the extent we think that they do.
Saying No. Two rural dentists noted that they were so busy that they found themselves working long hours with only occasional days off. "I started taking more vacation days. It helps me to enjoy my family and get things done around the house. I can work whenever I want, but my kids will only be kids for so long," stated a western Minnesota dentist. There is always a host of activities that can occupy free time. Prioritizing and choosing what most important to you can ensure good use of free time. Saying no can free up a busy schedule, avoid broken promises, and prevent the guilt of letting someone down.

Transition Seminar Series
This program is open to all D3 and D4 students as well as MDA member new dentists. Lectures are scheduled from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

The October 2 seminar was
Practice Options, Part I: Rural and Community Dentistry

October 16:
Practice Options, Part II: Working in the Metro Area and Using the MDA Website

October 30:
Practice Options, Part III: Starting or Purchasing a Practice - Resources for Evaluating Practices and Debt Management

November 6:
Marketing Yourself: Writing your Resumé/CV and Formal Communications

November 13: Resumé Workshop

December 4: Interview Skills

January 22: Professional Etiquette: Formal Dinner Event


*Dr. Clouse is a general dentist in private practice in New Brighton, Minnesota. E-mail is