September 2017 Volume LII Number 5

 
 
 
cover_2

Resident's Corner - Resident Burnout: Ways You Can Prevent it

September 2017 Volume LII Number 5

Gabriel Ross, D.M.D.

As I sit here at home, I am amazed to think that when I return on Monday I will finish my residency in one week. Reflecting upon these last two years as a resident, I can honestly say I have been privileged to be at MUSC pursuing my dream of becoming a pediatric dentist. I have had the ability to learn and grow during these two years, both as an individual as well as professionally within my career. As I sit here at 9 a.m., still in my pajamas enjoying my vacation, I am pondering the issue many residents face: burnout. Even our GME Chief meetings discussed resident burnout with some specialties, particularly general surgery, instituting mandatory mental health days! Stressed out, over- tired, and sleep deprived doctors do not make the best clinical judge- ments. Safety of the patient is paramount, and as providers we must take time to actively prevent burnout. Within myself, I realized the signs of burnout starting this last quarter: chronic tiredness, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and general "grumpiness".

Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy every one of my patients, and my co-residents; but with the stress of finding a job, potentially moving to a new city, and taking the Qualifying Exam for Boards, it became too much and I needed a break (hence the reason I am home two weeks prior to finishing my residency). My spouse first noticed the signs of burnout and commented that I had become grumpier, so I decided to do something about it. I spoke to some of my mentors, and listed below is a summary of their thoughts as well as my own for combating burnout.

Don’t overextend yourself. At the end of the day there is only one of you, and your career is a small portion of your life. Your family, friends, and even your community all contribute to making you the best you can be. We all want to help and assist others—that is why we became dentists! However, many of us quickly become overextended because we lack the ability to say "No". We think that if we miss a birthday for a friend, or forget to like a picture online, or go be with friends every weekend, we have somehow failed at life. This could not be further from the truth. Spreading ourselves too thin causes us to build up stress. We are too busy trying to achieve many things that we worry and fail to accomplish one thing.

Take time for yourself. I am blessed enough to live near some excellent beaches and try to take advantage of them as much as I can. Isak Dinesen (nom de plume of the Danish author of "Out of Africa") was quoted as saying "The cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea" We sweat hard enough during residency, so take the time we are not at work to do something for yourself. Go to a yoga class, take a hike, or go workout. Whatever it is you do—do it for your- self. Withdrawing from stress gives us time to recharge and renew our purpose.

Take one day at a time. No one has ever solved all the world’s problems by staying up and worrying about them. Tomorrow is tomorrow, and whatever will happen will happen tomorrow. Stress in small amounts: worrying will not change what happens. It’s best to take each day as it comes and embrace the challenges and rewards it brings.

Take a mini vacation. If you don’t have enough time for a long vacation, take a mini vacation. Go somewhere different, learn some- thing new, or just go hang out in your backyard with your dog! (or cat, or listen to the birds or wind rustling the leaves). Do whatever it is you do to relax! Go have lunch with a friend, take a vacation, or do a stay- cation. The point being, in order to learn and grow, we all need time to unwind and be without anything dentistry related for a day. It will give you time to recharge.

Leave work at work. It is important to be available for our patients when on call, and to plan ahead for the week and month to come. However, taking work home, and failing to leave the stress of work at work, is a cause for conflict at home. The careers we have de- cided to embark upon require us to be on our A-game every day. Even when we are tired or under the weather, we still put on the best experi- ence we can for our patients each day. In one friend’s words, working in pediatric dentistry, "…is like working at a Disney theme park, there are no off days for Mickey." When we have an upset parent, or patient, that drives us to our wit’s end, we cannot take this frustration home. We have to leave it at work. When we take the stress home every day, it causes us to be grouchy and cynical, making us forget about the good we have achieved.

To summarize these thoughts, residency has been a balancing act. It requires study, fortitude and persistence, all the while juggling family, friends, and other responsibilities. There will even be days I feel that I failed my patients, my staff, everyone. There will be times, no matter how much I prepare and plan, the day will seem to fall apart. It doesn’t make me any less of a dentist to have a bad day, as long as I can learn from the experience.

The best prevention we have against burnout is preparation, and part of that is preparing time to relax into our schedules. Without balance, we can become a grouchy, sarcastic dentist no one wants to see. Balance is the key to preventing burnout in any residency. So go take that vacation, bike ride, or beach visit you have postponing. Your health is worth it.

Click here for a PDF version of this article.