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The 10 Commandments of Happiness for Dentists – Part 2

In the second instalment of Dr Depen Patel's blog, he speaks on the remaining 5 commandments of happiness that can improve both your professional and personal life.

22 April, 2024
Have you read part 1? Click here to get all caught up.
6. Embrace failure

So your endo failed, the shade on the crown you’re about to fit is wrong, the denture keeps dropping out when you promised the patient it would stick like glue and all the while you’re trying to internalise and not scream the surgery down…we’ve all been there.  There are usually two responses to these situations.  Most people’s natural reaction would be ‘Why Me!?’ usually followed by a blame game aimed at the technician or the surgery or the materials etc.  The path to betterment is by flipping this and instead of the ‘Why Me’ say ‘Try Me!’. 

Embrace the suck, embrace the pain because on the other side of pain is success.  You have to fail in order to succeed.  You turn up every day with the intention of doing your best for all of your patients but despite this there will always be occasions where the result isn’t what you had hoped for.  But don’t hang your head for too long and instead reflect.  Analyse and be honest.  What could you have done better? Do you need to go on courses to improve your skills?  Before you change your lab have a conversation with the technician and explain what happened and ask them if there is anything you can do differently next time to ensure better quality lab work? 

Embrace the suck, embrace the pain because on the other side of pain is success

A great tool for this is the reflective journal which is required by the GDC now for this very situation. Remember it’s human nature to want to please people and in dentistry there’s an added stress factor when there is a level of expectation from patients as they’re paying for your services.  When you don’t meet their expectations it’s understandable to feel upset but the worst thing you can do is wallow in self pity. 

Look at every adverse occurrence as an opportunity for learning and self growth.  Maybe the situation can be avoided in the future with better communication skills or being more organised but whatever you do make sure you take a positive from it.  Don’t let it linger over you.  Just a week or a few days from now you won’t even care about the issue so don’t give it more of your energy than it deserves.

7. Talk less, listen more

The foundation of good communication, so simple yet so powerful.  Patients have a story that they have practiced over and over before they come and see you.  They want to tell you all about it and not leave out any of the details of how their cat ran away with their dentures and then they start listing all of their cat’s ailments.  We’ve all had them.  The moment you interrupt and start to focus on teeth related questions you interrupt their flow and they feel a pang of intrusion into their narrative.  

As tempting as it is to do this the best thing to do is nod, act interested in details of the story and demonstrate this by repeating back what they’ve said to show you’re listening then gently start leading them into the problem that they have come to see you about.

This simple technique will have patients on your side because they’ll feel that you’re a great listener.  They want a compassionate person to treat them not a clinician.  Patients are emotional and often view dental visits as an anxious experience commonly known as ‘white-coat syndrome’ and anything that can be done to avoid this will make your life easier.  Really simple small things like going to the waiting room to collect them yourself or bringing up conversations about their life that you had at their previous appointments will make you come across as a more genuine person and not like a clinician. 

One thing that I always do is introduce myself with my first name and not my ‘Dr’ title, it makes me seem more approachable and human which is going to help build better relationships with patients. 

A superior set of communication skills can also help prevent and manage adverse outcomes.  Patients are actually understanding of complications if they have been outlined and communicated before treatment.  If you have pre-warned and pre-consented them before a procedure and an adverse outcome occurs, they see it as part of the procedure and can usually, outcome depending, understand the reasoning behind it.  If you have not communicated with them effectively before then any explanation afterwards is seen as an excuse for poor work.

Patients want a compassionate person to treat them not a clinician

Obviously this isn’t your intention you’re always trying to do your best for your patients and adverse outcomes are part of the profession, but they don’t have to be the stress and panic inducing events you would expect them to be if you’re able to handle them effectively and with good communication throughout.  Dental Protection run great courses for this that I would highly recommend.

8. Look at your lifestyle

“You are what you eat”.  You’ve heard that one before.  “Too much alcohol and a lack of exercise is bad for you.”  Well duh!  But do you ever think to ask yourself why you do what you do?  The keys to wellness, health and happiness can be simplified to four areas of your life: spiritual, emotional, mental and physical well being. 

Having all four areas in balance is essential to help you become a more rounded, healthier, happier human being.  In particular emotional and spiritual development are the keys to making a permanent change in life.  It rarely works to tell an overweight person to just eat less and exercise more.  Diet and exercise may make sense mentally but most people who are overweight do not eat because they are hungry.  They may be eating to feed and emptiness in their emotions and soul.  When a person goes on a diet and exercise program they are only working on their mental and physical aspects. 

Without emotional development and spiritual strength, the overweight person may go on a diet for six months and lose a ton of weight only to put more weight back on later.  Equally a chain smoker saying “I’m going to quit smoking tomorrow” will be futile in their attempt without emotional and spiritual support.  Most addictions to bad habits are attempts to find happiness.  So what can you do?  Look at each area of your life and be honest with yourself to see where you can improve. 

Your spiritual side is linked to your soul, so ask yourself what could you do to feed this, what genuinely makes you happy?  It could be travelling or dancing or volunteering, the important thing is to reflect and be honest. 

Your mental side is linked to your mind, you need to ask yourself is it being stimulated enough, do you feel like you’re stagnating, do you need to do more courses that you’re interested in to reinvigorate your passion for dentistry? 

Your emotional side is linked to your heart, so ask yourself who or what do you love, it could be being with family or friends or your pet, just focus on what opens up your heart to receive affection! 

The physical side of things is your body, so look at what you could be doing to feel more energised and above all make sure its something you enjoy doing so there’s a better chance that you’ll keep it up. 

9. Mind your energy

Science has shown that all cells and living beings give off electromagnetic waves (or energy).  The energy you emit is finite and you only have a limited amount to expend every day and it’s very sensitive to your surroundings. 

Surround yourself with people who lift you up and inspire you

Have you ever noticed how the people that constantly complain about aspects of their life always seem to have bad luck following them around or do you ever just get a ‘feeling’ about someone that doesn’t sit well with you?  That’s their negative energy you’re feeling.  We work in close quarters with people day in and day out and the negative energy of people who complain, gossip or put people down can start to drag you down.  

Try your best to surround yourself with people who lift you up and inspire you, you’ll be infected by their enthusiasm and ambition. 

You are the sum of the 5 people you hang around with.  So if you’re surrounding yourself with ambitious, positive people their energy will rub off on you.  In practical terms what you should try to do is get a mentor, someone you admire who you can aspire to and shadow.  Being around people like this will naturally help raise your standards and energy levels and only good things can result.  You could do the courses you’ve always wanted to do and you’ll no doubt meet and network with like minded people and again only positive vibes can result

10. Take time out daily and monthly

Be still, daily.  We work in a high pressured job which requires a unique combination of clinical, communication, financial and of course manual skills, all the whilst trying to deliver great care, meet patient expectations and avoid litigation.  There’s not many other professions that require such a high level of focus and multitasking!  And with your brain working at a million miles per hours it’s inevitable that your performance levels will decline unless you can walk away from dentistry and let it be still.  This is where meditation comes in. 

Meditation has come on leaps and bounds and is now accessible via apps like Headspace  and Calm and YouTube have a plethora of videos to help. 

Mediation is good for the soul and it’s going to give the brain the rest it needs to replenish and keep it ticking over smoothly. Even if this is difficult to get into then just doing anything where your brain is still is going to be a great start, think sitting in a park and people watching or going for a walk. 

Another thing to do to keep you functioning at a high level of performance is to make sure you make plans away from dentistry regularly.  Plan some time away every 6-8 weeks.   It’s so easy to let the profession take over your life and it always takes the edge off of any stressful time you may be going through knowing you have a break planned.  It doesn’t have to be abroad, you could be having a reading week at home or having a staycation as long as it gives you the compete break you need to reset and recharge and take perspective.  

It’s so easy to get bogged down and lost in our line of work and it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole world waiting to be explored outside of your surgery walls.



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