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Hard truths and silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic

July 1, 2020
The things you need to know that nobody wants to talk about

When tough conversations are necessary, people often avoid them. The people whom I work with have the ability to be open and direct about the topics nobody wants to talk about, and together we work toward solutions. I want to address two current topics that no one is openly talking about.

The reality: You may not get your job back, or you may not want to go back to your job.

The hard truth: Before COVID-19, many dental offices had inefficient processes and excessive spending, including payroll expenses. Payroll can account for up to 60% of office expenditures. When the dental industry shut down in March due to the virus, it forced some practice owners to face the reality that they had poor financial management skills and a lack of savings. Owners are now forced to decide whether to downsize their teams or lose their businesses altogether. This means some of us may not be asked to return.

The silver lining: This experience has caused all of us to reevaluate our lives and priorities. Before the pandemic, many of you hung on to your jobs, not because you were happy, but because it was convenient. If you’ve lost your job, don’t think of it as failure; think of it as a great opportunity that has been handed to you.

What you can do: First, separate your personal worth from your employment status. I know it might feel like rejection and you may wonder what you did wrong or why you weren’t enough. Stop that now! There is a worldwide pandemic that has resulted in a very high unemployment rate. Amazing people are without jobs. There will be incredible business owners in every industry who will be forced to file for bankruptcy and start over. That doesn’t make them failures. It means they have a clean slate and can start over.

Take advantage of the opportunity to rebuild. What do you want from your work? What are you looking for in an ideal employer? What type of team member do you want to be? What problems do you want to solve? Develop a clear picture of what you want from your career, then write it down, make a vision board, and work every day to bring that vision to fruition. Someday you may look back and recognize that the best thing that ever happened to you was having to start over again.

The reality: You may get sick or someone you love may get sick.

The hard truth: We are all incredibly worried about being exposed to COVID-19 at work, but chances are we may contract the disease from going to the grocery store or playing in the park. There may not be a vaccine, or testing, or herd immunity for some time. We can’t stay at home month after month while we watch the economy tank and we head toward another Great Depression. We have to find a way to get back to work and we have to find a way to help our world recover.

The silver lining: While dentistry might be at increased risk due to the nature of what we do, we are light-years ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to infection control. We all took a risk when we entered this profession, and we did it because we care about health and we want to serve others. If we throw our hands up and give up, we lose all of the progress we’ve made. We have to be part of the solution. Our fellow hygienists need this and our patients deserve this.

What you can do: Prevention is in our DNA. I believe we should do everything we can to prevent catching COVID-19. I challenge you to prepare your body as though you expect to get sick. Here’s what I suggest.

  • Because the virus can attack the lungs,1 it is very important to expand your lung capacity. Look into yoga breathing exercises, Wim Hof breathing, and box breathing. Find one that works for you and stick with it. Do more cardio exercise!
  • Build your immunity by eating a diet made up of whole foods, the kind with ingredients you can pronounce, and avoid fried and processed foods. We all studied nutrition, so we know what to do.
  • Drink water, lots and lots of water, as much as half your body weight in ounces.
  • Take your vitamins and probiotics. Don’t forget to take vitamin D!
  • Move your body! Exercise is the most underutilized antidepressant, not to mention the greatest immune booster. Find an activity you like to do and do more of it. This isn’t about reaching a certain weight or unattainable size. This is about strengthening your muscles and getting your blood moving.
  • Add a mindfulness routine and do it every day. A scary thing for patients who had COVID-19 was feeling like they couldn’t breathe. Mindfulness will help you control your thoughts, calm your anxiety, and be an observer of what is happening in your body rather than panicking and exacerbating the problem.

Never in our lives has our health and our work mattered more. Let us not forget that oral health is key to total health, and that our work is absolutely essential. May we work together to find solutions, and may we adjust to our new normal and use this as an opportunity to put the pieces of our broken world back together in a way that better serves us, our profession, and our patients. 

Godoy M. How COVID-19 kills: The new coronavirus disease can take a deadly turn. NPR. February 14, 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/14/805289669/how-covid-19-kills-the-new-coronavirus-disease-can-take-a-deadly-turn

Josalyn (Josey) Sewell, RDH, is the cofounder of joyFULL People and joyFULL Business, designed to transform businesses by elevating people to their highest purpose. Her experience as a female executive in group practice developed her skills to successfully build teams with the perfect mix of sound business practices and the development of people. The systems she built helped grow her dental group from $18M to $28M in collections over three years without adding any locations.