Burnt out? How would you know?

Emma Courtney questions whether you might be burnt out, and whether you know you’re burnt out.

There’s a good chance that you won’t, I didn’t.

I just felt I was failing, doubted myself in my work and lost my sense of self worth as a dentist, I lost all perspective, I burnt out.

And it looked a bit like this:

  • Struggling to be upbeat about work, struggling to find joy in my working day
  • A sense of dread about certain patients or procedures, checking my book and feeling I couldn’t face certain appointments
  • Being tired, always tired. Not having the energy to be enthusiastic about work
  • Waking at night and dwelling on cases, potential complaints and what I might have done differently
  • Having days where I just couldn’t face work, knowing my upcoming book and not wanting to ‘dentist’ today
  • Over consenting and favouring defensive dentistry.
  • Over reactive, over emotional. Quick to anger or take offence
  • Taking minimal interest in the practice, just trying to get in and out
  • Avoiding work social events, avoiding anything extra to do with work
  • Having my anxiety levels go through the roof when receiving a call from work on a day off
  • Getting sick a lot
  • Struggling with ongoing physical injuries: neck, back, shoulder
  • Struggling to see myself as a dentist
  • Beating myself up for not being able to fix this.

It was a bit grim. It didn’t happen overnight and it won’t happen to everyone, but it is a real risk for all dentists.

We can be coping nicely with the stresses of daily life and work, but a single event, or a run of events, can overwhelm us pretty quickly.

These can be external; like a family death or illness, divorce, finances etc.

My top three events related to dental practice would be:


Never underestimate the stress of dealing with complaints or threatening complainants.

Even if there is nothing to answer to, complaints can have you second-guessing your abilities, procedures and consenting.

Sure, learn from complaints, make changes to your procedures where warranted but don’t go overboard.

Focus on the 99.9% of patients who you help everyday and how to improve things for them, not the 0.1% who would have complained regardless.


Bullying comes in many forms and you don’t have to be the direct recipient for it to change a great working environment into one of suspicion, negativity, taking sides and thinking the worst of people.

Financial pressure

Financial pressure is a huge stress for dentists and it can cause a conflict of interests.

This can be the pressure of running a successful business or the pressure of meeting other people’s benchmarks for monetary value of prescribed treatment.

As a clinician it can be an uneasy marriage of business and health care.

I hope you never burn out, but do look out for yourselves and your colleagues.

Be aware, allow self compassion and connect with your peers.

The biggest turning point for me was regaining perspective, understanding what I’d been through and that I wasn’t alone.

Find out how to rise above stress in tomorrow’s blog.

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