Finding the Sweet Spot of Work & Life Balance as a Dentist

Achieving a good work life balance is hard for all professions, but perhaps more even pronounced for dentists. But there is hope in finding that sweet spot of a well-balanced life.

By Dr. Mohamed Tarek Galal

A healthy work-life balance is one of the most sought-after goals of the modern age. About 20 years ago, it was quite easy to set reasonable working hours, take vacation days, and generally have some time to spend with family and friends. Nowadays, however, with the speed that comes with the modern age of technology and the constant need to fulfill relentless ambitions, accomplishing a balanced life isn’t as easy.

Why is Work-Life Balance Hard for Dentists?

Achieving a good work-life balance is hard for all professions, but perhaps the problem is more pronounced for dentists. This is because dentists who own their private practices generally have 2 active jobs: A dental practitioner and a practice manager, and between these, having some time for oneself is incredibly hard, but very much necessary.

Yes, some dentists choose a more corporate style of running their practice, acting more as an owner and manager rather than a practitioner which makes it a bit easier to achieve that balance, but the average family dentist will always have that problem.

How to Determine if the Work-Life Balance is Impaired

Only the working dentist can be their own judge. A few simple points are the indicators of one’s work-life balance, such as:

  • The number of working hours: On average, dentists tend to work 4 or 5 days a week, for about 7 hours a day, which sums up a maximum of 35 working hours a week. This is a perfect amount of working time that enables the dentist to fulfill his ambitions without damaging their physical or mental health.
  • The number of days off per year: There is no specific number to place here, but on average, at least 150 days off per year (including weekends) is the minimum to achieve a good balance.
  • Quality of sleep: All work is stressful, but dentistry is doubly so. Dentists spend so much time confined in a room, talking to only a few people per day, and usually tend to think about their cases all night, which adversely affects their sleep. That’s why poor sleep quality is a great indicator that you’re working too much.
  • Overall general health: Stress is the leading cause of many health problems such as hypertension and strokes. When dentists work too much, that generally means they’re more stressed out, which makes them more vulnerable to these dangerous conditions. A few indicators of deteriorating health such as generalized weakness or constant headaches should be red flags that a different approach is needed.
  • Relationships with family and friends: The closest people in our lives are the indicators for many of the problems we face, most commonly working too much. Listening to family and friends’ opinions when they say that they don’t spend much time with us, or need us to be more involved in their lives is a direct indicator of a poor work-life balance.

What to Do to Improve a Balanced Life

If a dentist determines their work-life balance needs improvement, there are a few solutions:

  1. Listen to your body: Your health is directly affected by your stress levels. Sleeping too little, or having constant headaches or upset stomachs should be a sign that some changes are needed promptly.
  2. Listen to your loved ones: Similar to your body, your family and friends also act as mirrors for your life. Seeing them less or having a less than an optimum relationship with any of them again should indicate a need for a new approach.
  3. Set reasonable boundaries at work: These boundaries should be with patients, staff, and even with yourself. Patients who call too often should be guided to the proper working hours (excluding emergencies of course). The staff should be adequately educated to make your workflow as easy as possible, without the need for you to constantly intervene. Finally, the concept of “just one more patient” or “just one more case” needs to change as soon as possible.
  4. Avoid distractions and focus more: This may seem a little counter-intuitive, but more focus means finishing your work in less time and with more accuracy, which means more hours to rest and spend with family, as well as little need to overthink problems and complications of cases.

In the end, you have to remember that you set your life the way you want it to be, and you are only as happy as you make yourself. Yes, we are dentists with obligations towards our patients, but don’t forget that we are people too.

References

  1. Oral health group: Maintaining a Great Work-life Balance as a Dentist by Dr. Sharda Patel.
    Available online: https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/features/maintaining-a-great-work-life-balance-as-a-dentist/
  2. Career Karma: How to Cultivate Work-Life Balance as a Dentist
    Available online: https://careerkarma.com/blog/dentist-work-life-balance/#:~:text=Is%20Work%2DLife%20Balance%20Possible,career%20choice%20is%20its%20flexibility.
  3. Mensah, A., Adjei, N.K. Work-life balance and self-reported health among working adults in Europe: a gender and welfare state regime comparative analysis. BMC Public Health 20, 1052 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09139-w
  4. The Young dentist: The Work life balance.
    Available online: http://www.theyoungdentist.com/uk/features/articles/43-the-work-life-balance
  5. Dentist’s Advantage: Dentist Work-Life Balance: How to Run Your Practice and Enjoy Life
    Available online: https://www.dentists-advantage.com/Prevention-Education/Blog/Content/Dentist-Work-Life-Balance-How-to-Run-Your-Practice-and-Enjoy-Life

 

Author: Dr. Mohamed Tarek Galal BDS, MFDS RCSEd, Member of AACD is a practicing dentist, and the founder and owner of Confidental Clinic in Cairo, Egypt. He graduated from the faculty of dentistry, Ain Shams University, obtaining his Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) in 2010 and has been practicing ever since. He acquired a postgraduate diploma of Oral Surgery in 2013 from the same university. In 2014, He acquired the membership of faculty of dental surgery (MFDS) from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), one of the highest honors in professional dentistry. In 2016, He became a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). He has also been in the writing and research business for over 5 years and has written more than 700 pieces on many different medical and dental topics for various websites, blogs and medical pages.

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