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Improving Work-Life Balance as an Associate Dentist

Updated: Jun 27


Improving Work-Life Balance as an Associate Dentist

Let’s call a spade a spade… Dentistry is an emotional rollercoaster of a profession. We are scientists, psychologists, engineers, and business owners (you know I go on about this!) wrapped up into one. We aim for perfection in an imperfect world and deal with significant emotional and physical demands all within strict time constraints. It’s a recipe for stress, burnout, and imbalance if ever I heard one.

Let’s remind ourselves of some practical strategies that can help us feel a little more centred and in control. Just remember, if you read this article and then don’t do anything different, you will be in exactly the same position, so make a change, no matter how small. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just take one small step in the right direction.

Getting in Perspective

First things first, what exactly is work-life balance? It’s all about finding a harmonious blend between your professional and personal responsibilities and aspirations. The aspirations element is important… What do you want? What is important to you? Professionally speaking and personally speaking, it is critical to get clear on these.

Prioritising

The personality that goes into dentistry is often one who wants everything all at once. Add this to the instant gratification world that we live in and we have stress and burnout just waiting to bubble up. Choose the most important things and focus on achieving those. A state of overwhelm is no good to anybody; productivity is replaced by confusion. Break down your priorities into manageable steps and then… complete them. Each mini step you do does wonders for your self-confidence and helps build momentum.

Becoming Okay with Not Knowing

In dentistry and business, there is a never-ending to-do list of information we are expected to know and techniques we are expected to master. To keep things interesting, this is continually changing as new materials, evidence, and technology get introduced. You could easily dedicate two lifetimes to learning this stuff, but I’m not sure how fulfilling that would actually be. So, instead, being okay with not knowing is something we need to get comfortable with. Try putting things in the classic three baskets… Need to know, Good to know, and Nice to know!

Time Management

Ever had one patient for a tough procedure but no time pressure because of a cancellation afterward? Feels different, doesn’t it? Poor time management creates unnecessary pressure in the office and this upsets everything. Some dentists are okay with running an hour behind, but most of us who find ourselves in this situation show it all over our faces and in the actions we take on our next patients. So mastering this and working with the practice to balance efficiency and hence hourly rate with peace and harmony is key. The reason this is so important is because if you leave the office with zero in the tank, you have so little to put towards the personal side of your life—be that health, family, or hobbies.

Finite Resources

Time is one of our finite resources; the others are energy and money. Be careful how you spend these! Don’t overcommit. Learn to say no to things that don’t matter or add value to your life. Additional tasks and responsibilities can easily tip your work-life balance against you.

Know Yourself

You need to have the self-awareness to recognise the signs of imbalance and when this is happening. Preferably to a minor degree where you can self-correct before burnout hits you like a sledgehammer. Symptoms like tiredness, irritability, decreased job performance, lack of focus, and a general sense of dissatisfaction can be signs that your work-life balance needs a bit of tweaking. Time to pause, walk, jog, sprint… There are times in our life when we need to do all of these things. We can’t sprint 24/7 for weeks on end but we may need to for a period. Understanding that the pauses and the walks allow for the jogging and sprinting is really important.

Boundaries

One of the most effective ways to improve your work-life balance is by setting clear boundaries between work and personal life. It’s easier said than done but will change your life when implemented correctly. Leave work at work. How do you decompress? Is it on the drive home? Do you stop to look at some nature? Hit the gym? Whatever it is, draw a line so you don’t take negative energy home to those you love. Working/studying from home? Set clear time boundaries and… stick to them. This gives you a sense of control which is key to balance and happiness. Have a dedicated workspace where you focus and leave those lovely comforting places for your downtime. Blurring these can feel good at the time but the reality is you are impacting your sacred switch-off space. Have the mentality, get it done then your time is yours to do as you please.

Health

We all know these things but do you do them? Get some good habits going for sleep, exercise, and diet. Prioritise your health; it is the table on which the rest of your life sits. When it comes unstuck, everything comes unstuck.

Downtime

Make your downtime count… play, laugh, spend time in nature, hang out with friends, try new things, meditate, be mindful, take short breaks, go to a party, plan a holiday, learn a hobby… The list is endless but these are the things that make your life worth living, so whatever it is for you… Put the phone down and go do it. 

Support

If you are out of balance, it can be a slippery downward, self-perpetuating spiral so get help from friends, family, colleagues and your owner. It’s important to talk about it. Know who you can go to… build that support network and remember we are humans, not machines.

Achieving work-life balance as an Associate Dentist is a never-ending journey that requires conscious effort and proactive strategies. Take care of your physical and mental health so you can give the best to yourself, your friends, your family, your colleagues, and your patients. Recognise the signs and if you need help, seek it! Remember, a balanced life leads to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling career. So, take that positive first step today and stay in touch!

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