Hang it up!

March 1, 2000
When`s the right time to retire? The author takes a amusing look at some situations that might indicate you`ve stayed too long.

When`s the right time to retire? The author takes a amusing look at some situations that might indicate you`ve stayed too long.

Joanne Iannone Sheehan, RDH

Driving to a seminar one day, three of us staff members and the doctor were reminiscing about the personnel history of the office. The conversation started with all the strange and exciting staff members that had preceded me. Then it shifted to dental professionals we`ve known who practiced longer than they should have. We asked the boss how long he planned to practice. Then came the predictable pledges of undying loyalty to stay with him until the very end.

The boss was unusually quiet. He was taking it all in, the sad and scary stories of old dentists just fading away ... while still practicing. He had years of perio and implant surgeries still left in him, but the thought of "staying too long at the ball" was bothersome. He finally turned and asked, "You would tell me if I ever got that way, right? I mean, you would let me know if it was time for me to retire, wouldn`t you?"

When do you know it`s time to hang up the drill, scalpel, or scaler? I asked a fellow hygienist, Suzanne Johnson, what it would take for her to consider retiring.

"I guess it would be that chunk of calculus between numbers 2 and 3 that just doesn`t seem appealing anymore. Instead of getting excited over it, challenged by it, I would think, `Yuck!` Then, it would be time to go."

And she is so right! There is nothing worse (any patient will tell you) than a hygienist who has fallen out of love with the profession. She is worse than a disgruntled government worker trapped in a cubicle, chasing papers, waiting for death or Social Security to kick in ... whatever comes first.

The hygienist has sharp instruments! And she`s dealing with live human beings! Patients know when you like what you`re doing. They can also tell when you would rather be anywhere but there, dealing with their problems. As for me, may my eyesight fail and my hands tremble if I should I cease to salivate at the sight of Class III calculus on an FMS! Let me at it!

Learn not to burn

Dr. David Bruce told me that dentists look more to their bank accounts to decide when they can retire. Kids in college have a lot to do with that decision more often than not. In my travels, I`ve probably met more burned out dentists than hygienists. This is partially due to hygienists fighting burnout by working part-time if they can.

Those dentists and hygienists who are still enthused about their work are doing two things. First, they are expanding their practices to include all the latest techniques and procedures, being challenged and learning. They are always learning - seminars, journals, study clubs - they are gluttons for knowledge. And they use what they learn to increase the options offered to patients who want more than average care. Patients appreciate that.

Secondly, they have lives outside the office. There is life after dentistry. They "de-stress" while white water rafting, biking, or jet-skiing. I worked with a doctor like that. I asked him on Friday what he would be doing that weekend so I could more specifically pray for his safety. Oh, I forgot to mention bungee-jumping.

Yes, I genuinely was concerned for his welfare, but I also needed the job. And so I prayed.

But there comes a time in everyone`s life when the natural and right thing to do is to "step away from the chair." It`s no disgrace; it`s just time. So how do you know when you`ve given all you have to give and you`re running on auto pilot? Hopefully, you`ll figure it out before something unforeseen happens. Those of us who sleep in our scrubs find it hard, if not impossible, to just put the instruments down and walk away after all those years.

For this reason, I have compiled a checklist on the next two pages for doctors and hygienists concerning things to watch for. They may be signs that your well-deserved retirement party is being planned.

If you check two or more, you might want to consider a second career, or, better yet, a cruise around the world. Let`s start with the dentist first...

So how did you score? Badly ... but better than me? OK, so maybe what we need is a less stressful job at this time in our lives. We deserve it, and we`ve worked hard. The paper is full of want ads for people just like us, but that one for the Wal-Mart greeter ... I saw it first!

The Boss

It`s best to leave before the stroke of midnight. It might be time to go if ...

1) You find yourself bragging about your office manager, Betty. "She`s stayed with me through good times and bad, for 25 years! Betty`s just like family!" The office manager`s name is Carol.

2) You drag yourself out of bed against the wishes of your protesting arthritic bones. You drive to the office and notice a lack of cars in the parking lot. It`s Saturday. You don`t work Saturdays.

3) Although it`s a difficult tooth with a lateral canal, you still perform a flawless RC on #2; #3 was slated for the procedure.

4) Your second, third, and fourth patients of the day cancel. You`re relieved!

5) You`re having a hard time scheduling tee times. Your patients keep getting in the way.

6) The screaming has finally subsided. You could have sworn you injected that patient!

7) Your staff, after reading your stress test results, opt to take the CPR refresher course every six months. They`re paying.

8) A referring dentist keeps sending you Mrs. Browne with the same letter, now highlighted in fluorescent, glow in the dark marker, with films, drawings, and a glossy 8x10 intraoral photo, pleading for you to deal with decay on #3D. You still can`t find it.

9) You`re lobbying to expand duties for dental auxiliaries. These include, but are not limited to, extractions, perio surgery, and sinus augmentations.

10) As planned last week, your cousin, a mechanic, came and got your car for a tune-up, precipitating a call from you to the police reporting a car theft. Until Carol stepped in, he was up for grand auto.


Cinderella, watch the time! You may want to head for the carriage if ...

1) Your last patient, Mrs. Jones, calls the office from home, a bit annoyed. Her partial is sparkling clean and grinning from the lab ultrasonic.

2) You forget to alert the doctor you`re done and Mr. Willis, an efficiency expert, finishes half of War and Peace waiting to be checked. (He`s more than miffed at the boss and cancels their tee time for Saturday).

3) Your recare patient Mr. Markus, age 82, invites you out on a date! You`re a little flustered, and find out you can`t retract the cheek with a scaler.

4) You`re running late. Your patient needs something. You hurry into the supply room ... Why?

5) Your office gives you your third annual retirement party. They`re hoping the third time`s a charm.

6) While filling out license renewal info, you have to check to see where you graduated from ... and when.

7) You`ve added a Mr. Coffee, photo gallery, and recipe box to your room. You`ve grown more fond of chatting with your patients than treating them. Next week is the cookie exchange!

8) You`ve had the police alerted five times by entering the wrong security code in the alarm system. Your boss is hoping for an arrest.

9) Your doctor gets an idea from his other golf buddy. He offers you an "early out" bonus.

10) You fumble the Panorex you were inserting into the developer and it falls on the floor. You open the darkroom door to find it.