Practice owners – you are not alone!
Holly Foley encourages practice owners to reach out and support each other during these challenging post-COVID-19 times.
Our profession is proven to be a stressful one. Friends, family and patients are aware that dentistry holds one of the highest levels of burnout and stress. This can lead to more serious mental health problems.
The increased risk may be due to a large number of independently-owned dental practices. With increased struggles of recruitment, predominantly in in rural areas. In addition, working as a practice owner exacerbates this. A role that is inherently learnt on the job to become a business leader alongside a clinical lead.
The outbreak of COVID-19 caused the profession overnight to be put on hold with #Downdrills closing practices nationally. Then we were rapidly informed we would reopen under new conditions.
The changes place principal dentists under new pressures with a shift in focus. Owning a practice has become less about clinical need, staff rotas and choosing which dental conference to attend, and more about who can go on furlough and if you can even afford to reopen.
Current pressures on practice owners are clear. What some practice owners are unaware of is that there is support out there! There is a network, and you can choose what to use from multiple opportunities.
One option is becoming part of your local dental committee (LDC). It is a fantastic outlet to open up conversation on other practices’ experiences and their interpretations of the new standard operating procedures (SOPs) and guidance. This support from peers and fellow practice owners can really help to digest the ‘new normal’. My LDC has even utilised regular Zoom meetings to disseminate new or changed guidance increasing involvement dramatically.
Staying up-to-date and utilising clinical commissioning groups and professional bodies, is easily accessible. Such as guidance by the FGDP(UK)(2020) and our professional association the BDA. Both continually publish updates, even for non-members, to support the profession. Alongside championing our critical key worker status for staff to have childcare provision, which has been a great help.
It is vital to have open communication with your team. Utilising their support is invaluable. This support can reduce the extreme new workload of digesting the evidence-base available and latest documentation. However, it is important to be aware there are other avenues available. A dentist down the road isn’t your business competition, but a colleague and someone to talk to outside of your own team.
The Welsh government is delaying our re-opening date. Therefore, we have the advantage of observing our England counterparts and their approach to the ‘new normal’. We can see what works best in practice. Now is the time to pick up the phone to your university buddies to also seek their advice.
Dentistry embraces online platforms and the virtual world of technology is ever advancing.
The profession swiftly developed online support through webinars and CPD to keep up-to-date. Even social media outlets (which does need to be taken with caution) can allow contact with other dentists across the world. See what they’ve been doing and openly discuss views and opinions.
The stress of practice ownership and clinical practice can affect our mental and overall health. We should not ignore it. There is support from other healthcare professionals which we can access via GPs or mental health charities such as Mind. Even talking to friends and family with a non-clinical approach can help. There is also the profession’s own Dentist’s Health Support Programme. Alongside companies such as Psynergy Mental Health, who work with the NHS to screen and improve mental health conditions in the workplace.
It is evident our skill set is dynamic. Redeployment for dentists includes DFTs supporting ITU, other colleagues on maternity wards and adapting practices to become emergency dental hubs. We are flexible and we do support each other. But we also need to remember to ask for help. We now need our leadership style to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and seek out support when we need it.
I implore you to access the dental support networks available whatever avenue you choose. Talk to colleagues, talk to other practices, embrace your LDC, the BDA and also the multi-professional team. This will consequently help to enhance and improve your practice with the most up-to date evidence, and help you to feel supported by your profession.
Now is the time to support each other. Ask for help when we need it and move forward through these challenging times together.
FGDP(UK) (2020) Implications of COVID-19 for the safe management of general dental practice A practical guide. London: FGDP(UK)
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