Seeking Guidance and Finding Focus in Times of Distraction and Distress

July 29, 2020 2376

The combination of clinical concerns, business uncertainties and economic pressures can lead to overwhelming feelings of anger, fear, disillusion and grief. Dentists are connected to a network of peers, as well as specialized experts, who can share empathetic, objective guidance in times of hardship.

Dentists are experts at building resilience — from the grit needed to graduate from dental school to the patience that comes with practicing compassionate care, especially during times of hardship. Our current circumstances, however, are creating new challenges for even the most seasoned dental professionals. The combination of clinical concerns, business uncertainties and economic pressures can lead to overwhelming feelings of anger, fear, disillusion and grief.

Through organized dentistry, members are connected to a network of their peers as well as specialized experts who can share empathetic, objective guidance. Dentists aren’t alone during times of distraction and distress. Through the California Dental Association, members have access to expertise and resources from Practice Support specialists on regulatory compliance, employment practices, dental benefit plans and practice management. And, regardless whether members are policyholders with The Dentists Insurance Company, they also have access to no-cost guidance from TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line. These experienced analysts provide education, support and advice by phone to dentists to assist them with managing concerning situations.

Last year alone, TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line handled more than 20,000 calls — on pressing concerns around employment, property and patient care issues. Over the past few months, the COVID-19 pressures have created additional concerns and more dentists are calling seeking guidance for new, emotional and high-stakes practice challenges.

A recent caller shared that he had not been able to obtain the required PPE to safely reopen his practice. He told the Risk Management analyst that he’d been feeling frustrated and psychologically strained as he faced the real possibly of losing his business, stating that he may be forced to close his doors through the end of the year. The analyst offered recommendations to support the dentist in making clear-minded decisions while navigating this pain and fear. The analyst encouraged him to continue to check in with his furloughed employees and to be open with them about the lack of PPE and the reasons for the temporary closure. If he laid off employees now, he could contact them when the market conditions change to see if they are available to come back to work. The dentist was hopeful to secure PPE and reopen at the beginning of next year. The objective guidance helped him refocus his efforts and plan his next steps.

In another call to the Risk Management Advice Line, a practice had received a request for employment records from an attorney. The office had closed temporarily in mid-March, at which time all eight employees were furloughed. The practice resumed patient care at the end of May; however, due to sporadic patient flow and unpredictable income, she was only able to afford to bring back four of the eight furloughed employees. The plan was to eventually call the remaining four employees back to work once business picked up and the practice resumed full operations. Upon learning that other employees had been called back to work, one of the employees who had not been asked to return contacted an attorney. The employee alleged that she was not asked to return because the other staff members who were called back were younger and represented the image that the practice wanted to promote. The attorney alleged that his client was discriminated against due to her age and that other employees were provided with preferential treatment. The practice owner and her spouse expressed their frustration about the overall impact of the unexpected office closure, which was now even more stressful because of a potential employment claim. During the conversation, the practice owner was emotionally overcome, expressing her fear of losing the business that is the only source of their income. She shared that this uncertainty and stress was causing her to have sleepless nights, a lack of appetite and the inability to focus on how to get herself out of the situation and survive. After listening attentively, the analyst acknowledged that fear and anxiety about the current pandemic and its effects on the dentist and her business can be overwhelming. She advised her to take a step back and to focus first and foremost on her own well-being. She also offered a referral to an employment attorney for guidance on how to best respond to the attorney’s request for the employee’s file. In addition, the analyst shared tips on how to effectively communicate with employees and stay in touch with the employees who are not yet back at work.

While these are just a few of the calls received, the underlying stress of COVID-19 is impacting the emotional well-being of countless dentists. It’s also contributing to stressful home and work environments in which challenges can quickly escalate into crises.

As shared in the May RM Matters article, open communication can help strengthen employee-employer bonds. As employers, dentists are charged with being authentic, positive, consistent and concise. In this complicated climate, it’s more important than ever to communicate clearly and often.

And, in keeping with the analyst’s recommendation, it’s crucial that practice leaders step back and take care of their own well-being. Mindful, forward-thinking decisions come from a place of calm, care and concentration. If there’s a lack of sleep, sustenance or focus, decisions are made from a place of desperation and practice risks increase.

Here are a few coping strategies:

  • Focus on what you can control. As described in a recent American Dental Association article, there’s a battle going on in our brains between fear and contentment. The fight-or-flight reflex is kicking in, which increases our heart rate, constricts or dilates blood vessels, shuts down our stomachs and get us ready to physically address the threat. But we also have a rational part of our brains that can help us understand that our body’s automatic responses aren’t always the appropriate ones, and we can find a thoughtful resolution to problems.
  • Stay connected. In times of isolation, we can manifest negative thoughts or let unhealthy thoughts spiral. Pursue face-to-face conversations with family, colleagues and peers — even if digitally — and reach out to the support system within organized dentistry. Also make a conscious effort to engage in activity and get outdoors each day. In addition to the health benefits, sunlight and exercise can help improve our moods. Consistent routines can positively affect our mental state amid disruption in other aspects of life and work.
  • Know that you’re not alone. Your peers in dentistry are experiencing the same crisis and, like you, are navigating complex emotions. Those feelings of anger, grief, disillusionment and fear are likely shared by your peers — and there are no easy answers. Don’t hesitate to seek support for financial, emotional and social well-being through your dental community and professional organizations.

Trusted national and state organizations are dedicated to supporting your emotional health during times of hardship. Share these well-being resources with your family or dental team members who may benefit from tools to navigate stress and anxiety:

Find additional support as a California Dental Association member:

As the profession continues to respond to and recover from the impacts of the pandemic — clinical, financial, social and emotional — care for your own well-being along with your patients and dental team. And remember there are people and programs that can provide trusted guidance and help you focus on positive outcomes.

Reprinted with permission from the July issue of the CDA Journal.