Half of the dentists (50%) in the United Kingdom have considered leaving the profession due to their personal well-being, according to Dental Protection’s recent survey of its members. Also, 50% are dissatisfied with their work-life balance, and 60% said they found it difficult to take a short break.
Dental Protection cautions that such burnout creates problems not just for dentists but also for patients and the rest of the dental team. The company, then, is calling on dental organizations to consider establishing “well-being guardians” so dentists have access to a named person with the required training to recognize burnout and offer the necessary support. It also recommends that dentists’ well-being be included among other key performance indicators.
According to Dental Protection, burnout is characterized by mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, increased detachment, and a decline in professional satisfaction caused by multiple factors that can exist at a personal, team, and wider system level. It is not the same as depression. Instead, burnout is specific to work, whereas depression tends to pervade every domain of a person’s life.
“Dentistry can be a very rewarding profession. Being able to play an important part in the health and quality of life of the public is a privilege and gives a sense of pride. However, when I talk to dentists throughout the UK, it is clear that morale is low, and well-being issues are rising up the professional agenda,” said Raj Rattan, dental director at Dental Protection.
“Dentists experiencing burnout are likely to be more error-prone, which can compromise the quality of care provided for their patients or deliver substandard care at work. They are less empathic, less able cognitively, and this behavior can have a negative impact on colleagues, teams, and the organization,” said Rattan.
“We encourage dentists to reduce their exposure to burnout by reviewing the working environment and workload and adopting a proactive approach to developing resilience to reduce the risk of burnout and its consequences. We could also go further and consider the significant impact of the underlying systemic factors that contribute to burnout,” said Rattan.
“Efforts to minimize the harmful effects of burnout will only bear fruit when these underlying causes have been adequately addressed. We believe that if our recommendations are taken seriously, it will help to mitigate the personal and professional risks associated with burnout in the profession,” said Rattan.
“The bureaucracy with CQC, GDC, NHS, and the constant fear of litigation, just because we are the number one target, are making this profession difficult to perform and enjoy and add to the burnout feeling. No other profession seems to have the same regulation and punishment as dentistry,” said one anonymous Dental Protection member.
“Dentistry is a uniquely lonely, high-pressured career. We spend our entire day caring for others no matter the cost to ourselves,” said another member.
Dental Protection’s key recommendations include:
- Training dentists about the risks of burnout, stimulating supportive working relationships, and helping them feel comfortable about raising concerns with managers
- Helping dental teams and practices develop policies to allow for breaks, making rest and recovery periods the norm
- Creating work environments that encourage recognition of achievements and training about the importance of putting policies in place to prevent burnout
- Helping large dental organizations implement well-being guardians by 2022
- Helping the Department of Health ensure that funding is available for counseling once burnout has occurred
- Helping dental schools focus on giving dental practitioners who supervise others training to identify and support sick team members
Dental Protection conducted its member survey between June 11 and June 25, 2019, with 422 responses from dentists in the UK. Its full report, “Breaking the Burnout Cycle,” is available online.