News |4 min read

Are You Experiencing Dental Burnout Like I Was?

Jane Walkley, MAADOM with text, "Real-world insights from AADOM authors"

Merriam-Webster defines burnout as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

Burnout is real.

As an office manager, I am constantly juggling multiple tasks.

Most days, I’m buzzing around until the reality of burnout sets in. And when it does, you can feel the impact.

Complete exhaustion, both physically and emotionally.

I struggle to admit that I, a person who is always a bundle of positivity, was staring in the face of burnout.

We can all agree that the COVID-19 pandemic rocked our world and not in a positive way.

Oh, there have been some positives, like spending more time with family, but in reality, it has been the most difficult year I can ever remember, not only in dental office management but in my life.

We’re being asked to stay indoors, limit social activity, and distance ourselves from others. Our lives have changed for the foreseeable future.

Over the months, my work routine took a drastic turn. I am sure most dental office managers would agree.

I was challenged with the partial shutdown of my office and the general feeling of not knowing what the future would hold.

I researched and studied the new protocols that would need to be implemented, trained our team, created new signage, and answered a million questions.

  • Would my practice survive? We did.
  • Would my coworkers remain healthy? They did.
  • Would we reopen safely? Well, yes, we did.
  • Would patients return? They did.

Throughout this time, we kept communication open with the team and our doctors.

As a team, we addressed our concerns and decided early on to be open with each other.

We periodically reviewed our protocol and updated systems as needed. We discussed areas of success and those that needed improvement. Even though we were adding extra tasks to our day, we cheerfully took care of our patients. We were buzzing along!

I ended 2020 feeling proud of where we were and for having made it to the end of the year.

And then, about two weeks into 2021, I started to really feel it.

I was tired and had grown weary.

The cause of my burnout

I had been working at such a fast pace that I hadn’t taken the time to take care of myself. I was telling myself to be positive.

There I was, just going through the motions, and my tank was close to empty. I had irrationally placed the weight of the office world on my shoulders.

Every issue was like a boulder weighing a thousand pounds. Boulders of compliance concerns, additional paperwork, insurance, and scheduling issues. Boulders of the constant COVID issues weighed me down.

And just where are the thermometer batteries?

Little issues were blown out of proportion.

What I didn’t realize is that the stress I was putting on myself was taking a toll on me both physically and emotionally.

I found myself constantly replaying the events of every day over and over in my mind. It was like a reel-to-reel tape player on repeat (yes, I’m that old!).

I was questioning some of my decisions.

Could I have done more? Am I doing enough? Do I care?

I could feel myself starting to spiral. Burning. Out.

It had to STOP!

How I’m coping with dental burnout

I have always been a positive person. When my thoughts shifted, and I realized that what I was feeling was burnout, I knew I had to share my thoughts.

So, I did. To my spouse, a few close friends, my boss.

That’s when I knew I could turn it around.

I remembered a quote I had heard many years before:

“You have to name it before you can claim it.”

I named my burnout, and I claimed it. Now, it was up to me to change it.

So, I did.

I changed the narrative that was constantly playing in my head and assured myself that I would get through this feeling of burnout.

I made the conscious decision to release the daily pressure I was placing on myself, to extend grace and get rid of the boulders.

I looked inward for strength to get back to being me. I took my lunch break, finished my coffee (some days,) and stopped worrying about the little things, like thermometer batteries.

I continue to rely on those around me, both my work family and my home family, and my AADOM team.

Now I can refocus on my well-being, which will result in a happier and healthier me.

Meet the Author

Jane Walkley in blue collared shirt against gray backgroundJane Walkley has been in love with dentistry since 1979. She frequently supports local offices with software and insurance training, as well as implementing systems and protocols.

She’s a lifetime AADOM member who received her Fellowship in 2012. Then in 2020, Jane was inducted into the first class of AADOM Masters.

In her personal time, Jane volunteers with a local nonprofit that facilitates a cold-weather shelter, serving on their Board of Directors. She and her husband live in rural Maryland with their three cats.


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