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Burnout: Your new status symbol?

Dec. 1, 2022
Have you found yourself almost bragging about how busy you are? Being burned out has become a bit of a status symbol. But this really isn't a wise idea.

I was reviewing my written to-do lists and synced calendars between my devices, and I realized that instead of an orderly set of tasks, I was staring at a group of sentences and words that didn’t quite make sense. This was a first. As I tried to sort what was happening, I noticed that I had committed to doing multiple things at the same time. Since there’s only one of me, I knew there was no way I could get through it all. Sound familiar?

This seems to be a recurring theme in many conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues around the country. The most common statement I hear is, “I’m so tired and overloaded.” This got me thinking about how many of us are guilty of wearing our exhaustion as a badge of honor. Whether from personal life stressors, professional career challenges, family dynamics, or all of these, one thing is true; everyone’s coping the best they can with something, and some people do this better than others.

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How did we get here?

Why are we chasing burnout as a status symbol? In my opinion, much of this attitude comes from the perceived power and success that we see around us, power that feels elusive when we try to attain it. I hear the same story from students around the country as they apply to dental schools or residency programs, from new grads as they interview for associateships, and from practice owners as they try to scale and expand so they can grow. I even hear this from the most seasoned dentists, some of whom have been in practice longer than I’ve been alive.

You may think this reads like a vicious and unbreakable cycle. You’re not exactly wrong. I believe that it takes intentional planning, thoughtful decision making, and a good support system to accomplish everything that we do. Being a dentist is not easy. This profession can be incredibly isolating in its own ways as we each navigate our path forward. The mentality that so many of us have of being able to do everything ourselves can be a self-destructive one. It took me 11 years in this profession to find my peace. It takes deliberate effort every day, and it requires vulnerability and openness that I struggled to find for a long time.

One of my dearest friends and mentors told me that it’s OK to not be OK, and as I write this article I’m reminded of her words. I did not fully understand what she said at the time because I thought that I’d never need anyone else’s help. I thought I knew better. But I’ve learned that accepting help, admitting defeat, taking a step back, and reprioritizing things to better suit your goals are the choices we can make to find peace in an often-chaotic world. It’s hard work, but it’s necessary work. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Be happy, but make sure to be well.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the December 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

About the Author

Amrita R. Patel, DDS, FICD, FPFA

Amrita R. Patel, DDS, FICD, FPFA, graduated from NYU College of Dentistry in 2011 and completed her residency at the Nassau University Medical Center. She is a general dentist in private practice with her father, endodontist Dr. Rohit Z. Patel, in Westchester County, New York. She chaired the New York State Dental Association New Dentist Committee and served as the new dentist representative on the ADA’s Council on Dental Benefit Plans for 2020-21. She is also among the recipients of the 2021 ADA 10 Under 10 Awards.

Updated June 27, 2022

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