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Burnout in Dentistry: the cause and how to mitigate the impact

Burnout in Dentistry: the cause and how to mitigate the impact

The World Health Organization has recently added burnout to its international classification of diseases, and there is a very real risk of dentists suffering from this condition if they overextend themselves due to the nature and working environment in a dental practice.

Research compiled by The British Dental Journal (BDA) in January 2019 found high levels of stress and burnout amongst a survey of more than 2,000 UK dentists. 54% of respondents revealed they were currently experiencing high job stress with 43% stating they were unable to cope with the level of pressure in their role.

More worryingly, almost a fifth (17%) admitted they had seriously thought about committing suicide.

Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. increased mental distance from your job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to your career
  3. reduced professional efficacy

Dentists are motivated by the opportunity to do challenging and interesting work, earn well, maintain work life balance and bring comfort and confidence to their patients.

However, they also have a lot of concerns such as fulfilling rising patient expectations, a fear of litigation, NHS bureaucracy and falling income levels.

This has led to a rise in unhappy dentists with analysis compiled by Practice Plan's six Confidence Monitor showing that 86% of NHS dentists don't see themselves in the NHS by 2023.

Alleviating burnout

Overstretched dental surgeries may experience high levels of staff turnover but dental practice owners themselves could be at risk of losing their business if they also encounter burnout.

The following three steps can help to alleviate workplace pressures:

Well trained and trusted staff - the life of a dentist can be stressful. Not only do you have revenue targets and patients to treat, dental principals also have to manage the business of practice ownership.

Principals must not shoulder the responsibility for running all aspects of the practice in isolation just because they are the business owner.

Hiring an experienced practice manager can significantly help to alleviate time-consuming administration and some aspects of HR and training procedures to reduce workload pressures.

Invest in IT systems - some dental practices still rely on inefficient paper-based and manual processes to manage patient appointments.

Modern patient management systems save time and stress by automating the booking of appointments and can also send emails and SMS messages to patients to inform them about new treatments and remind them of forthcoming check-ups, reducing last-minute cancellations and no-shows.

Create a business plan for success - purchasing a dental practice or implementing changes, such as building refurbishments or the creation of new surgeries, can be overwhelming.

Creating a comprehensive business plan to outline short, medium and long-term strategies for growth can help to mitigate potential burnout by ensuring practice owners are prepared for most eventualities.

A business plan should provide analysis of patient retention and attrition levels, as well as the practice's turnover and profitability figures, which will provide a more accurate picture of the business so practice owners can avoid making poorly informed decisions which can cause unexpected anxiety and stress when scaling up.

It should also include detailed profit and loss and cash flow forecasts, in addition to conveying contingency plans such as provisions to recruit more staff, so that your work-life balance will not become overwhelmed should your practice get busier.

Overcoming barriers to implementation

There are two main concerns when dentists are looking to introduce changes to their business - finances and time.

From a financial perspective, purchasing new equipment and IT systems can undoubtedly be expensive. Flexible finance solutions from specialist providers include funding for a wide range of dental technology and equipment which enable purchases to be spread over a period of one to five years.

As a result, practice owners no longer have to dip into vital cash reserves and pay for items in one lump sum and can gain quicker access to the assets they need. Furthermore, tailored funding solutions can include the ability to finance up to 20% of soft costs, such as IT installation, training and support services.

Attaining work-life balance in dentistry can be a difficult hurdle to overcome with recent studies indicating high levels of stress amongst UK dentists.

However, by eliminating or delegating unnecessary work, analysing your professional goals and seeking the support of trusted specialists can help to reduce the likelihood of burnout in the long-run.

Find out how Wesleyan Bank can help you finance time and energy saving equipment or services.

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