Controlling the stress of change

June 1, 2003
Webster's dictionary defines burnout as "failure in a device attributable to excessive heat; the cessation of rocket engine operation when all fuel is burned up." Do you ever feel the excessive heat of frustration in your career?

By Janet Hagerman

Webster's dictionary defines burnout as "failure in a device attributable to excessive heat; the cessation of rocket engine operation when all fuel is burned up." Do you ever feel the excessive heat of frustration in your career? Is the fuel of your passion for service all burned up? The stress of dental hygiene certainly can lead to burnout. The good news is that going through — and growing through — burnouts can lead to incredible breakthroughs. And breakthroughs lead to a more fulfilling career and a more balanced life.

Often, the very problems that cause frustrations turn out to be our biggest opportunities for growth. Take a look at your potential for burnout and explore your opportunities to reverse your commitment to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling professional path.

Dentistry today is being called the golden age (even the platinum age) of the profession. There is excitement about the technology, materials and equipment, clinical research, and opportunities. Changes occur at a breathtaking pace in our industry. The media has never before paid so much attention to dentistry — almost daily.

So, will you be a part of all this? Or will you burn out from boredom, stress, or frustration? If you decide to remain in the dental hygiene field, how will you remain committed? As a young hygienist, how do you prevent burnout? If you're a seasoned hygienist, how will you re-ignite your passion for service?

To understand where we're going, let's look at where we've come from. The changes are mind-boggling.

• X-rays: From hand dipping in chemicals ... to automatic processors ... to digital radiography.

• Patient education tools: From a flip chart ... to standardized mini-courses on television (CAESY).

• Scheduling: From paper appointment books ... to computers. In fact, the trend is to become paperless and put everything in the computer.

• Ultrasonic scalers: Once reserved for only the heaviest of deposits ... are now standard protocol.

• Irrigation and site-specific chemotherapeutics: Once unheard of ... are also now standard of care.

• Case presentation: From verbal explanations ... to full color, close-ups of the patient's teeth on a television monitor, with a 8x10 glossy to take home.

• Legislation and delegation: Evolve as state boards continually increase hygienist contributions and expand practice acts to include services such as delivering anesthesia and placing restorations. (Is your state one of those?)

• Advertising: Once taboo (even illegal) ... is now practically mandatory as the dental industry discovers the magic and power of marketing.

• Modern materials: Dependence on the strength of metals dissolves as a whole new world of porcelain and composite materials provide the ability to create strong, beautiful, functional, and natural-looking smiles.

• Equipment: Has evolved from bulky, heavy handpieces ... to portable and lightweight, reducing the potential for repetitive hand and wrist fatigue. Orthoscopic glasses, lighted mouth mirrors, and fiber optics provide better visuals and an opportunity for supportive posture, saving necks, and backs.

• Dress code: From formal white dress uniforms, complete with panty hose and those ubiquitous white caps ... to comfortable and practical scrubs. In many practices, the professional look is a crisp white lab coat over matching casual street clothes.

You've come a long way! Some career veterans are nodding their heads in recognition of this list. Newcomers, who have never known a life without cell phones, are thinking that this must definitely have been back in the dinosaur ages. The point is this list undoubtedly will be obsolete in another few years, because the world of dentistry is changing so very fast.

Elbert Hubbard said, "The world is changing so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it." Will you be interrupted or be doing the interrupting?

Change is, by nature, stressful. It causes you to think outside the box, re-direct your focus, and re-orient your goals. Change creates new frustrations constantly as you encounter new challenges. Have these changes contributed to your professional evolution? Are you excited about them? Or, are you bored and stressed?

One of the biggest challenges in dental hygiene is retention — keeping good hygienists in the field. How many hygienists leave the field annually? Will you be one of them? What will it take to re-ignite your passion for service? If you are a new hygienist, how will you stay enthusiastic in your chosen profession?

When looking for success in life, model those who are successful. Take a few tips from world-famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins and his Ultimate Success Formula:

• Decide what you want and know your outcomes. Be specific!

• Take action. Make a plan and work it. Just do it now. Begin.

• Notice what's working and what's not working. Monitors help with this. Do not be discouraged by what you perceive as failure. Successful people learn from their so called "failures" and turn them into opportunities for growth.

• Change your approach again and again until you achieve what you want. Keep trying.

This is a model that will serve you well in anything you want in your career and your life. It is the model I will expand upon in future columns.

When frustrations abound and burnout threatens, take some action and change your focus. When you are feeling the most discouraged and forlorn, switch your emphasis from "what I'm missing" to "how I can help?" This provides an amazing paradigm shift that works wonders on your attitude.

My journey from burnout to breakthrough took me through several new careers — writing, photography, floral design, special events, and television. During that time, I was looking for meaning, significance, and creativity in my career. Ironically, I finally found it back again in dentistry. Each career taught me lessons that became invaluable as I re-entered the field of dentistry. Hopefully, you can benefit vicariously from my burnout without having to go there yourself!

Right now, answer these questions. What do you love about your career/job? What do you dislike about your career/job? If you could wave a magic wand for the job of your dreams, what would it look like? Now, apply Robbins' Ultimate Success Formula to your answers. Congratulations. You're on your way to breakthrough!

My commitment to you is to share my enthusiasm for what I love, which is finding ways to love what we do. I'll also want to hear from you and discover what it is you want to know to stay fired up about your career. So I welcome your questions and comments. Each month I'll share a lesson learned, a tip or thoughts about how to stay excited about what we do.

Embark on this journey with me to discover and uncover new truths about our profession. Learn how to break through to create the career of your dreams.

Janet Hagerman, RDH, BS, is a speaker, author, and coach for Hygiene Mastery. For a complimentary assessment of your hygiene department potential, call (888) 347-4785 or email [email protected].

Action Steps

• Patient care: What one protocol can you add a week that will increase your standard of care for your patients? Consider saving a life with a complete head, neck, and oral cancer screening. Or you might open a patient's cosmetic eyes with a shade guide exam.

• Technology: Dust off your intraoral camera and use it on every patient you see for one day, then two days, and, so on, until it becomes an extension of your hand.

• Team relations: Select one team member who you find the most challenging to work with and compliment that person (genuinely) every day for a week. Notice what it does to your relationship.

• Doctor relations: Take your boss to lunch and pay for it. (Talk about a paradigm shift!) Discuss improvements you'd like to suggest for your department, and how you can support him/her and their practice vision for growth.

• Your hygiene department business: Learn how to access your own production report and study it daily for one week. Then do the same thing for your department for a month. What will you learn?

• Professional and/or community contribution: Offer to speak to a high school class about dentistry as a career, or your college alma mater about the real world of dental hygiene.

• Care of you: It's important for you to pamper yourself when you leave the office. Dental hygiene can make its demands on you physically, mentally, and emotionally. So take care of yourself. Select an activity that you find nurturing and rejuvenating. Some examples are yoga, any exercise, meditation, or hot bubbly baths.

• Leadership: Become pro-active. Take some action, even if, at first, it is only baby steps.