Understanding the Single-Minded Nature of Dentists

In my last post, a Lolabees Friend shared a wonderfully thoughtful comment that got me thinking about a lot of things.  One thing in particular stood out.  At the close, he said:

All I can say at this moment — 4 weeks after taking a break from dentistry — is that just now I am beginning to feel like I can take a breath and relax. Really live. Pursue some interests I truly have a passion for. And for the first time in a long time, say “I really don’t care.”

His experience is not surprising at all.  What strikes me is this idea that now he can finally pursue other interests that he really loves.  Why suddenly now?  Why not while he was practicing dentistry?  It reminds me a lot of my own experience.  When I was practicing dentistry, being a dentist was my identity.  That was all I had, or so I thought.  Of course I loved doing other activities like skiing, hiking, yoga, and having an active social life all the time; but I somehow discounted those things.  I was so obsessed with my identity as a dentist, that I overlooked the value and impact these other interests could have on my life.  I also believed I had no others talents, skills, and interests.  This feeling was very real for me at the time.  But when I look back now, I see how untrue that really was.  It wasn’t until I was forced to abandon this career that I started to view myself as a whole person who might have other interests and passions.

Why do we feel that we must focus entirely on dentistry when we are in this career? Why can’t we have both?  Why did it take both Eric and me getting distance from our own practices to begin to feel like we could breath, and relax, and live, and pursue our interests and passions?  It’s as if we had our entire lives compartmentalized, and it left us fragmented instead of whole. 

I wonder if this is the key.

If we felt like we could pursue other interests while in dentistry, do you think we could feel more balanced and happy with our lives?  It reminds me of the lottery fantasy we all have.  Did you ever imagine what you would do if you won the lottery?  We come up with a whole different set of rules and plans from how we are currently living.  While much of that is dependent on money, we can do a lot of it before we win the lottery.  A lot of our imagined rules really connect back to our state of mind.  So why can’t we live out some of those dreams before we win the lottery?  Or why can’t we live out some of our passions and interests while we practice dentistry?

What are we waiting for?

I know now that my tunnel vision was a reality that my state of mind created.  The truth is, if I were happy doing what I was doing, I would have felt more free.  That freedom would have allowed and encouraged me to live with more excitement.  I would have appreciated my job and would have been more open to appreciating my other passions and interests.  Instead, I was so focused on hating dentistry that it overshadowed everything else that was a part of me.

I’m still not sure why we do this.  What do you think?  Is this true for you too? If so, why is dentistry so all-encompassing for you?  Why do we feel we can’t have both at the same time?  Where did this belief come from, and why do so many of us fall into this trap?  Is this something that was ingrained in school, or did we all learn it after years in the field?

If you are feeling like you can’t pursue other interests right now, what can you try today to get yourself out of that tunnel?

Why wait?  You never know what opening your mind up will do for your soul.


46 thoughts on “Understanding the Single-Minded Nature of Dentists

  1. When last we spoke, about 3.5-4 years ago, I was needing a career change. I’m a dentist in Knoxville, and three years ago I sold my practice of 18 years and merged into a group. I now work 3 days a week and get a W2. I think a big part of dentists struggling to have balance is running a business and being a clinician as well. I thought about leaving dentistry altogether, but now have peace in the career. It’s still stressful, but when you’re off more days of the week than you work, you can almost deal with anything. Lol

    1. Trey, I’m so glad you were able to find a way to make it work for you. I agree that a 3-day work week is the best! 4 days still feels like 5, but 3 feels like 3! I think a lot of the angst people experience is with the business hassles. That’s really great for you that you made that shift. Also great to see that we don’t need to break our backs full time to make this work. It’s one of the benefits of dentistry.

      I’m curious… are you able to engage in outside interests and passions now that you work less? Did you go through some guilt and grief when you went down to 3 days?

      Also… I’m going to email you. Looking to interview (can be anonymous) some people for my blog, and I think your story could really help a lot of people.

      1. Your blog helped inspire me to sell and cut back on my schedule. Thank you.
        Oh yeah there was some guilt. My staff hated me and my patients still give me grief. I tell them that at least this way I can still treat them. Otherwise I was going to put a sign on the door saying: “Closed. Go somewhere else.” Lol
        I’d be happy to help any way I can.

        1. Oh, and yes I was able to pursue other things. I remodeled my kitchen myself, fishing, kayaking, volunteering with meals on wheels, and appreciating life. I’m very blessed.

        2. That’s great, Trey. You’ve definitely found a way to make it work for you. I didn’t realize that you sold your practice and then stayed on as an associate. Was that weird from a control standpoint? It sounds like it is not weird at all for you, and you love it. It’s cool that you were able to stay on with your patients that you’d built relationships with over the years. How interesting that they all gave you grief. I bet nothing has changed for any of them.

          I also wonder if the combination of no more business responsibilities, mixed with less time in the office, and more time to pursue outside interests is precisely what is making this work for you. it sounds like that’s the key.

  2. I’ve commented in the past stating I am not a dentist but I am expanded functions DANB certified dental assistant of over 30 years. I am still trying to get out of dentistry since my last post, close to 2 years ago.(sigh) I’ve been miserable in my career since the beginning. Several reasons kept me “trapped in an op” that I won’t go in to, at this time. I am now free from certain responsibilities and financial obligations which leave me more options and time to explore other career opportunities. At nearly 52, fear is holding me back, I believe. Fear stemming from a lot of things. But to answer your question about why we do not have a life outside of dentistry—I consider myself an Empath and an introvert. Going to work each day and interacting with people takes a tremendous effort. Dealing with the energy of anxious patients and stressed out dentists and coworkers, all in very close proximity of one another leaves me emotionally, spirituality, and physically DRAINED to the point of not wanting to do anything at all on my time off except stay at home and recover from the day or week. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my life in a career that was not a good fit for me. I think I would be a happier, less anxious, well-rounded person today. However, I do still have hope of the right opportunity for me, someday.

    1. Hi Makura, you are one of us! I believe it’s very similar for anyone with a chairside role in the dental office. Amazing how universal these feelings are. That’s great that you are now free from some of your financial obligations– that’s a first step. Your fear is very understandable. It’s all you know. You’ve been committed to it for so long. I’m sorry you’re feeling stuck. It’s no fun, but I know there is something out there for you!

      Interesting point about being an empath and an introvert. That makes a ton of sense. That strong sense of empathy can crush us in this field. I’d say that describes me too. I let other people’s stress and energy affect mine. It’s so hard but really crucial to find a way to protect your energy, so you don’t get dragged down. I wonder how much that quality contributes to others’ feelings of dissatisfaction in the career. I also wonder how you could find other interests that support your introverted nature and let you recharge. Who knows what doors that could open??

      1. For so long I thought there was something “wrong” with ME, as in depression or anxiety and that was why I could not “deal” at work and was always exhausted. You see, back then there was no Internet and no one talked about how much they hated their jobs. You would just go around faking it and drink heavily at night, lol. It wasn’t until the Internet that I began interacting with others who feel the same way and also learning more about personality types, introverts, empaths, highly sensitive people, etc. So, now it all makes sense and I don’t feel like such a failure for hating to go to work. It just is not a good fit for me.

        I have cut back to 3 days per week hoping that would help, but honestly, the constant rush to see as many patients as possible, no time to pee, no time to eat, or even BREATHE, is more than I can handle at this age. I honestly think my adrenals are shot because I ran on pure adrenaline all those years. And all for nothing—-all these private practice dentists do not offer medical benefits or a retirement, 401k match, etc. (very, very few do). And with all my years of experience I am capped out on pay according to them. At nearly 52, I have no insurance and no retirement……after giving my life to dentistry. I know it was my own fault that I stayed so long and didn’t move on a lot sooner.

        I have had 3 very significant people pass away recently and it just reinforces the fact that life is too short to be stuck doing something you hate for no pay off. Even for 1 day. So, I am more desperate than ever to find a job outside if dentistry where I have a lot of flexibility, preferably work from home, work independently with very few, if any, coworkers, and very little direct supervision. I will say, that I am a perfectionist (like most of us in this field are) and I work extremely hard, and excel at anything I do. I would be anyone’s excellent employee or even self employed but I just have NO idea what to do ( no college degree) that does not involve a lot of people and interaction. I don’t know where to even start. Sitting at a desk 5 days per week does not appeal to me, at all, either.

        Any ideas should be much appreciated! Thank you all for listening and understanding. I welcome feedback from anyone.

        1. I think being an introvert was so misunderstood for so long. People seem to get it now, and it’s not viewed so negatively. I don’t understand why it ever was. That’s great that you were able to connect with people to allow yourself to see that what you experience is perfectly normal. I had to come to that conclusion myself– that the job wasn’t a fit for me. That’s it.

          3 days a week didn’t work for me either. I wish it did! I think that’s when you know it’s the wrong fit– when 3 days a week is still killing you. So sorry about the passing of your friends or family. Those moments are always strong reminders. Life is too short to waste it! It’s clear you have what it takes to be successful. I think the key is to keep using this message that life is too short to keep driving you to make the change you want and need. It isn’t easy. If it were, we wouldn’t have so many of us having this conversation. But, if you do a little every day to push you in the right direction, eventually it will happen!

  3. “At nearly 52 fear is holding me back”. I get that, a couple of years ago I hated my job too, and was inspired by Laura’s blog to try and change things, but was scared, and needed to earn money. I managed to go part time down to 3 days a week, but the job was still the job and I still wasn’t happy. Last year with support from my hubby I jacked it in all together. My mum used to say one door closes and another opens, and that’s what happened to me, 2 months after I left, I got offered a great job part time on a good salary and I’m happy as Larry. I was 56 at the time. Of course I don’t know the whole of your circumstances but don’t let age one of the things that hold you back, we deserve to be happy even more so the older we get! Good luck!

    1. You offer me hope! Thank you!

      For so long I thought there was something “wrong” with ME, as in depression or anxiety and that was why I could not “deal” at work and was always exhausted. You see, back then there was no Internet and no one talked about how much they hated their jobs. You would just go around faking it and drink heavily at night, lol. It wasn’t until the Internet that I began interacting with others who feel the same way and also learning more about personality types, introverts, empaths, highly sensitive people, etc. So, now it all makes sense and I don’t feel like such a failure for hating to go to work. It just is not a good fit for me.

      I have cut back to 3 days per week hoping that would help, but honestly, the constant rush to see as many patients as possible, no time to pee, no time to eat, or even BREATHE, is more than I can handle at this age (52). I honestly think my adrenals are shot because I ran on pure adrenaline all those years. And all for nothing—-all these private practice dentists do not offer medical benefits or a retirement, 401k match, etc. (very, very few do). And with all my years of experience I am capped out on pay according to them. At nearly 52, I have no insurance and no retirement……after giving my life to dentistry. I know it was my own fault that I stayed so long and didn’t move on a lot sooner.

      I have had 3 very significant people pass away recently and it just reinforces the fact that life is too short to be stuck doing something you hate for no pay off. Even for 1 day. So, I am more desperate than ever to find a job outside if dentistry where I have a lot of flexibility, preferably work from home, work independently with very few, if any, coworkers, and very little direct supervision. I will say, that I am a perfectionist (like most of us in this field are) and I work extremely hard, and excel at anything I do. I would be anyone’s excellent employee or even self employed but I just have NO idea what to do ( no college degree) that does not involve a lot of people and interaction. I don’t know where to even start. Sitting at a desk 5 days per week does not appeal to me, at all, either.

      Any ideas should be much appreciated! Thank you all for listening and understanding. I welcome feedback from anyone.

      Fragglerocking, what kind of work are you doing now, if I may ask?

      1. Hi Makura, I wasn’t in dentistry, but in hearing aid sales and services, an audiologist doing home visits which often involved setting off from home and driving 3 hours, working all day in an area then driving 3 hours home, getting home around 7-8pm then doing 2 hrs work in my home office. The pressure to sell was an invidious constant and whilst people have no problems wearing glasses, dentures, and replacement limbs etc, no-one wants to wear a hearing aid! I was always fighting negative attitudes. I note you would love to work without coworkers and little direct supervision and for me that was also a downer, no-one to talk to, discuss cases with, have a giggle with. Now I work for an audiologist friend in her clinic just doing earwax removal (I know, yuck!) but I love it, people come in bunged up and I sort it out and they are hugging me, all smiles and gratitude! My days are happy!
        I started out life as an OR Nurse, and did that for 20 years before moving up north to be with my hubby, and couldn’t find a job as a nurse when I did, had to work for agencies, which is good money but also rootless and insecure, so when I got accepted to train in in audiology it seemed like a good idea at the time, in the end it was as I am a happy bunny now, but as time went on I felt it was the worst decision I ever made. Strangely it might have been a good occupation for you! I don’t know how easy retraining is in your country, but if you like looking after people, doing something that involves visiting people in their homes would be something worth considering. Chiropody, hairdressing, massage therapist etc, all jobs where you end up autonomous, but as I say I’m not sure if thats possible for you. I hope you find your way out and into a better situation, good luck!

    2. You are an inspiration!! I’m curious… this door opening for you… was it just dumb luck, or did you set something in motion to somehow create this opportunity for yourself?

      1. I don’t think I deliberately set things in motion, but my friend and now boss Brenda, knew I wasn’t happy and when I told her I was leaving she said ‘good! come and work for me!’.

        1. It’s funny, fraggs. I always wished something like that would happen to me BEFORE committing to change. It’s amazing that once you made the commitment to change, it all fell in to place for you. As always… congratulations. And btw, we dental pros see a lot of gross stuff that rivals ear wax, so we aren’t put off by that at all! Haha.

  4. I left dental hygiene and pursued my master ad a social worker. Ia exhausted burnout and dirt poor. you see Noone appreciate what a LMSW does untill they need it….if it was just the one I could deal but the pay was insulting…I have a master and I still got paid as a janitor… I had more educated than everyone I worked with including my superiors. I’m trained better than a psychologist in counseling. I worked in hospice I was paid the least. I drove 500 miles a week which the company only paid for milage 30 cents.i was salary.i put on 50 hours of time with patients and was expected to be on call all the time I paid 200 a month in tolls which the company refused to reimburse?
    .. I never went out or did anything that cost money. I had no life. I thought hell I can work 4 days in hygiene make what I make in two weeks as a social worker and not be on call and have a life…it makes me sad I loved being a social worker but it just about destroyed me emotionally and physically because of companies…I am going prn…I basically was a Dr at janitor pay or hell probably the janitor made more money than me

    1. Donna, are you no longer doing social work? I remember you telling me how much you loved it! The idea that you had to work 2 weeks to earn what you could make in 4 days is a harsh reality that makes people feel stuck. It sounds like you can’t do what you love because it’s so draining on you. Are there opportunities to open a private practice as a social worker? That could be a super interesting option…

  5. I think you can have these same feelings of living a segmented life in any job where you are unhappy. I left dentistry for good about 2 years ago and have since been working for a bank in the mortgage department. It’s a job to pay the bills but is certainly not my passion or what I want to do the rest of my life. It’s not a good fit for me emotionally or physically but is a necessity until my business can support me. Maybe I still have the dentist mindset but I have a hard time with life balance and am way too emotionally caught up in my job and that definitely has a negative impact on me. I’ve probably blocked out most of my memories of dentally-induced stress but the stress I feel now can be unbearable at times. I look back on my days in dentistry and think, what was so bad? I was working 4 days a week at an office 5 minutes from my house. Of course, at that time I was thinking how great it would be to have a 9-5 with guaranteed pay and benefits. The grass is always greener! LOL

    There is one interesting thing I’ve noticed since I started working in corporate America. Since I’ve always identified myself with being a dentist and working in a clinical setting, working in a bank doesn’t seem like a “real” job! I still catch myself thinking, “Wow, so this is what other people do all day! They actually went to school to do this and are trying to climb that corporate ladder!” It’s no wonder I have a hard time fitting in!

    1. Is this the Kristen I think it is? 😉 It’s interesting to hear the updates of your recent job. I would imagine one hard part of going from dentist to corporate employee is you lose that sense of autonomy. But on the other hand, it seems like you’d have a lot of security. So many people struggle with Corporate America. You’re confirming that it’s just as challenging as dentistry, but maybe in different ways. You mentioned “until my business can support me.” Do you have something else in the works? If so, how exciting! Would love to hear if it’s anything you can share at this time.

      As far as identifying with being a dentist… do you still call your clients patients? I do it all the time!!

      1. Yes, it is me! LOL I didn’t get to go on my annual pilgrimage to Colorado this year or I would have stopped by! Adjusting to corporate America has certainly been a challenge. Plus, going from being at the top (or near the top) of the totem pole to near the bottom has also been a big change. Not many of the people I work with know about my past life as a dentist and it’s kind of a weird dynamic with those up my chain of command having less education than I do. I guess I’ve chosen to keep it a secret because I don’t want to go into it again and have to explain myself. You know, all those questions! I just do my job and go home. It’s a great company with lots of perks but the job is super stressful and it’s beginning to take a toll on my health. That plus the 2 hours I spend commuting each day. I’ve been working on my own business for about a year now. I’m starting my own brand of products and will sell online on my website, Amazon, eBay, etc. That was my reason for going to China back in April. I’ll be launching my FB page in the next couple of days along with product #1. This is what I REALLY want to do! Source products, write copy, play with SEO and advertising. The security of the corporate job is wonderful but is quickly sucking the life out of me. My goal is to live the laptop lifestyle so I can travel and make my own schedule and NEVER have to sit in traffic for 2 hours a day!

        1. I thought that was you, but I wanted to double check! I can understand why you might not want to go into it with your new work contacts. It could require a lot of explaining. Such interesting dynamics you are experiencing. I wonder how having to let go of some of the things you thought we important to you is changing the way you think. I do think a lot of dental professionals would enjoy owning their own businesses. It seems like a more comparable fit to what we are used to. I can’t wait to see your business launch! No more traffic. The 2 hours alone is enough to drive anyone nuts.

  6. Dentistry is an impossible career. Too much time is devoted just practicing with no work/life balance. Even as an associate , I worked until eight, utterly exhausted, pissed at my wife and child, no time for anything, etc. My vacuous life centered around production. A sad existence. Everything ended in divorce and a chronic illness when one day I woke up to go to the office after a particularly tough week and miserable patients. I put on my scrubs, drove half way to the office, and never made it there. I called in and told them I would never come back. I was done with dentistry right there and then. I’ve never looked back. I am consulting for an insurance company which is far from ideal but sold my house, turned in the bimmer, and punted all the materialistic bs and friendships that held me back. I haven’t been happier even though I have ar less. I would never recommend this career to anyone. For those of you that love it, knock yourselves out.

    1. Sorry about your divorce and chronic illness, but I must say, I smiled at the part where you put on your scrubs, drove halfway to work, and basically said “f*ck this, I’m out!” I cannot tell you how many times that I have wanted to do that and I’m just a single dental assistant of 30 miserable years! (Read above for details)

      CONGRATULATIONS!!!! I am over materialistic stuff, and just want to be peaceful and happy…..I just cannot figure what to do next??!!! (I’m 52 and single so I have no second income to fall back on).

      Any input or suggestions are welcome.

      Thank you!

      1. Thank you. Truly, the illness is the least of my problem and as for my divorce, good luck to her. I love my life now, don’t care about a big house, or catching up with other dentists. When I made the decision to suddenly quit, of course, it was scary. But I’ve never looked back. Also, I had already lined up a part time insurance gig, so I didn’t just suddenly decide to be unemployed. I took a little loss on the house, but glad I did. Priceless.

    2. I love the “I put on my scrubs, drove half way to the office, and never made it there. I called in and told them I would never come back.” Such a moment of clarity for you! So many people could benefit from hearing your story. A lot of people’s marriages suffer from this. My husband gave me an ultimatum years ago. He said, “you better change something, or our marriage won’t last.” I didn’t realize how my unhappiness was bringing him down. Luckily it gave me permission to walk away. The other thing is to hear you describe how much happier you are without all the status symbols. A lot of people would love to have “permission” to let go of those demands. Look out for an email from me…

      1. This is great site. Many “so-called” dental school friends (actually, colleagues) disappeared after they found out I left dentistry. Good riddance. My life is not only simpler, but I am focusing on my health for the first time in years. Life is definitely too short to do things we don’t want to do. After selling my practice, a huge burden was lifted. I didn’t care about patient care (I did care about my patients as most were very kind), but you know what they say about the 20%….I don’t miss it at all. Yes, corporate jobs I think suck; the pay isn’t nearly as good but I like leaving the job behind me when I go home. I don’t miss the nagging from patients, the staff issues, or other problems of ownership. I definitely don’t miss the attitudes of owner doctors who tell you what to do and how to do it. I couldn’t be happier being a million miles away from the profession. While working for an insurance industry is not my calling, I really don’t care anymore. I look at work as a means to an end, not my life. I define my life with my hobbies and spending time with my son and after work. Between that time, it’s just a paycheck. But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  7. What really astounds me is that this feeling of being “trapped” in dentistry seems to be a worldwide phenomenon.
    I have worked in the UK for 7 years and during these 7 years I have been close to completely giving up on dentistry many times. During university, I often felt exhausted, desperate, lost, but never have I felt so utterly depleted like I have whilst working in general dental practice in England. Not just drained, but also physically ill, ranging from constant back and head ache, to insomnia, anxiety, palpitations and what seemed like a never-ending streak of colds. Going to work in the morning often left me standing in front of my bathroom mirror, feeling sick and contemplating to just crawl back to bed. I seriously feared going to work. It was not just the patients and their very open hostility towards anything dental related; it was also the constant pressure of having to provide treatment in the minimum amount of time possible, preferably in 10-minute intervals, as well as being pressured into selling unnecessary cosmetic procedures to patients. The British NHS system is not profitable for dental practices, therefore any practice owner will pressure their associates into working in a factory style manner, as well as cutting their wages or even terminating their employment if they cannot sell enough cosmetic treatments that would be privately paid for by the patients, thus making them more lucrative for the practice.
    And I have to say I suck at selling. I felt like I was doing a very dangerous balancing act between being a dentist who has a sense of ethics and trying to keep my job by meeting the financial goals that had been imposed on me by my boss. Not to mention that the regulatory body for dentistry in the UK was openly encouraging patients to sue their dentist if they found him/her to be “unpleasant”.
    When I chose to quit dentistry temporarily, and dentistry in the UK for good, in order to live with my partner in Japan , I did so with a mixture of utter relief and complete horror. From day one at university (I graduated in Germany) I was told that being a dentist is a prestige. That dentistry is the holy grail and once you are part of this special society of grail holders, there is no turning your back on it. Upon telling my colleagues that I would leave the UK and quit dentistry for a while (it is not possible for me to practice dentistry in Japan) I was met with disbelief, shock and even some disgust. How could I even think of leaving dentistry? Would I at least obtain some sort of further dental related degree, or any skills that would increase my future income and status in the dental community? Why could my partner not quit his job and move to the UK since my job as a dentist was obviously more valuable and important than any other job could ever be?
    The anxiety I got from these comments was real: was I crazy for leaving a job that provided me with the financial independence that I needed to follow my passion for traveling, even though I didn’t get the time off to actually travel because then my patients complained to the practice, which in return reminded me of my obligations with regards to continuously increase my turnover. Would I be able to ever go back to dentistry if I wanted? Was I the disgrace that my colleagues made me believe?
    It took me around 6 months, until I stopped waking up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding in my chest from another nocturnal panic attack. I do not miss dentistry, not a tiny little bit. My life feels like it’s mine again. I have always loved drawing and painting throughout my life, until I felt too drained and anxious to be creative; now I am reclaiming this for myself.
    Despite considering my former colleagues good and decent people, I avoid staying in contact. The seemingly unavoidable questions about my future in dentistry and the miserable life I must be leading right now, being only half a person without the dental environment, make me feel uncomfortable and I am honestly sick of defending my life choices. Dentistry often feels like a life-long commitment, more like a cult than a profession. And for now, I chose not to be a part of it.
    I say “for now” as I consider giving dentistry another chance in another country. One of these would be New Zealand which is another story with the enormous hurdle of getting my qualification approved as equal to a New Zealand dental degree. But in this case, dentistry would be our ticket to obtaining a visa. And even though I am curious and excited about a potential life in New Zealand, going back to dentistry makes my stomach squirm a bit. And with that comes the question: what else can I do apart from being a dentist? I’m not sure if this is my personal insecurity speaking or if it is indeed the single-minded nature of dentists.

    1. What an enlightening comment! Thank you for sharing your story. I have been hearing more and more stories about dental life in the UK, and I am appalled. I knew it was bad, but when I hear the details, I see it’s much worse than I could have imagined. The idea that they are encouraging dentists to be sued is disgraceful. It makes sense that you have to sell cosmetics to be profitable. It’s the only way there, and it’s too bad. It’s ironic, as most of the dentists I know hate “selling.” I used to work in a practice where the owner placed a large emphasis on “selling” dentistry, and it made me so uncomfortable.

      I want to commend you for leaving dentistry (at least for now.) When it creates the response it created in you, it’s not okay. I’m glad you listened to yourself and did what you needed to do for your health and happiness. I hope you can see here and now that your experience is normal. A lot of us have gone through similar things, but we are in a world that keeps us in the closet (I discuss that in my last post.) By speaking out the way you have here, someone can share this experience with you. We have a kind of courage and strangth that not everyone wants to unleash (but I believe we all have.) The fact that you went against the grain shows that. I heard a lot of the same comments you received. In fact, I wrote a post titled Escaping the Cult of Dentistry in 2 parts! I got berated on DentalTown for suggesting that leaving dentistry was like leaving a cult. Not sure I get why people care so much about what other people do with their lives, but I have some theories…

      It’s so great to hear that you have pursued drawing and painting again. That’s what I’m talking about! I believe that creativity will help you through these times of doubt and help you find answers. You do have other talents and skills, and you can find something outside of dentistry if that is what you really want. I’m curious… what are you doing now in Japan?

      1. Thank you for your kind words, Laura!
        I absolutely agree with you: we live in a world that keeps us in the closet. Openly saying that dentistry is not the greatest profession for everyone is often seen as a threat to dentistry and dentists themselves. I am certain that there are many dentists out there, who enjoy their work and who are happy with their choice, I however, found that the longer I worked in dentistry, the more lost I felt. Having found others here, who share the same feelings and thoughts, has definitely contributed to my determination to actually leave my last job, and therefore dentistry, behind.
        As you mentioned in your post, dentists are single-minded. I am in no way immune to that sentiment and often ask myself “But what else can I do that is enjoyable and at the same time can pay the bills?”. The latter part (what will pay the bills?) was actually one reason that made me choose the “safe path” and pursue dentistry. Thinking that a “sensitive” person would fit well into a profession that was always promoted as “caring for others”, I chose dental school over art school. However at that point, it was not apparent to me that dentistry is also a business and that my introverted soul would struggle with the demands of daily dental practice.
        The question of “what other skills do I have and how can I use them” remains, and I am still trying to figure that out. Living in Japan made dentistry an unattainable option and gave me the opportunity to just do whatever makes me happy. I would say my official job description right now would be happy homemaker, enthusiastic baking adventurer, hobby portrait artist, part-time volunteer language teacher, self-studying Japanese student, and first-time blog-writer. A job that makes me very happy and that has earned me a lot of snarky remarks from many colleagues, as well as friends. But what matters is that I am truly happy, that I enjoy waking up in the morning and me being excited about the day to come. And that I am blessed to have a truly amazing family and partner, as well as close friends, who support me.

    2. I never post on blogs, but reading your comments, it was like you are in my mind! I also worked in the English NHS system and it is every bit as horrendous as you say (and some!) At one point I only worked 2 days/week, but after 5 days off flew by, I was back to the sickness, anxiety, not able to sleep…… I would always wish my drive to work could take that little bit longer. I contemplated giving up, but didn’t know what to do.

      My husband is a dentist as well and has all the exact same feelings. So we packed up & shipped out and came here to Australia. My work/life balance is so much better, but now I’m off work with chronic back pain & again contemplating what to do.

      Being a dentist does define you. People instantly judge you. I’m not in it for the status or the money. I genuinely wanted to help people, but that’s why it’s frustrating when people don’t want to be helped & assume you’re trying to make money. One lady with her designer hand bag & clothes had a go at me, but quickly shut up when I told her I commuted by bus.

      In my opinion, there are 2 types of dentists: those who really care, but they earn less and suffer more; and those who are in it for the status/money and get that easily. It depends what you want. I think all of us on here are of the 1st and our personalities aren’t suited for dentistry. There’s a comment below about empathy & narcissism- so true! We want more from life than dollars and cents, and others who aren’t that way inclined just can’t see that. And that’s their problem!! Well done to you for following what’s true to you. At the end of the day you’ll be happier than all those who gave you negative comments.

      1. Kat– I’m curious, did you find practicing dentistry any better in Australia than being part of the NHS?

        By the way I had hoped working 2 days a week would have been easier for me too, but I had similar experiences that you describe…

        1. 100 times better!! I got lucky & got an amazing practice where there was no pressure to sell. On the whole you get much more time with patients and are respected a lot more. However that general anxiety of being a dentist is still there.

          Interestingly, I was speaking to a paramedic at the weekend who was explaining that his job wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be. When he worked in business he said he had the constant stress of remembering to call that client, remember to send that email, work on the weekly deadline, monthly deadline, quarterly deadline. Constant. Like us – call that patient, write that letter, is so and so ok, hope that tooth hasn’t fractured, hope the lab get this right, did I charge enough? Did I charge too much? Hope so and so didn’t complain…… He said as a paramedic you get the odd 15-30 minutes of stress, and then you move on. I guess their job is get the patient from A to B, and then they are no longer their patient. We on the other hand don’t have that luxury and carry the stress around – which is why the 2 days still don’t work!

          PS. I love that you have created this space for us all to realise we are not alone! Well done!!

        2. That’s really great to hear. I always believed there are fundamentals that make this career so hard for so many, and it is a amazing that we feel these same challenges in many different countries. I’m in a FB group for dentists in the UK, and I can not believe how horrendous the NHS makes practicing dentistry. I’m shocked by the amount of abuse so many dentist have to take.

          So interesting about the paramedic. I would think that would be such a stressful job! He certainly makes a point, and I also wonder what is it about his personality that allows him to feel so zen about it… maybe it is the fact that it’s his second career, and he has such a different perspective based on his experiences from his first career. WE do carry that stress around.

          I’m so glad you’ve shared your thoughts with us! Do you have any idea of what you’d like to do next?

        3. At the moment I am enjoying the calm! I’m so worried about my health, and now that I’m being forced to take it easy, it’s nice to enjoy pursuits I’ve not enjoyed since I was a child – like being able to read a book in a day!

          I’m also enjoying being a housewife, and now that I’m not as stressed, I can really see how stressed my husband is (also a dentist). I’ll keep you posted once the novelty of the simple things in life wears off!

        4. Kat, wishing you all the best with your health. Sounds like you’re definitely taking a positive approach. 🙂

          It is funny how you can enjoy the mundane, simple things as you back away from the intense life of dentistry (especially with your daily reminders as you watch your husband’s stress.) I don’t know if that ever wears off. Haha! I still enjoy the simple things. I imagine you might too!!

  8. Fascinating to read all these comments! You made a great point, Lolabees, in one of your replies – about how difficult it can be for an empathetic and introverted person (such as me) to not let this career affect them in a negative way. I actually became more extroverted as a result of dealing with so many people over the years. But that was only on the outside. Inside, I was still the same. That conflict can be destructive.

    I actually know some dentists to have fully acknowledged to me that they are arrogant and narcissistic. They see it as a positive thing (yikes!), and rarely are bothered by any of the negative aspects of the career. But I could never be one of those people. Don’t get me wrong – I’m actually pretty thick-skinned, and stand up for what I think is right. But when your inner core is “wired” to be an introvert, it makes it difficult to resolve some of the issues noted below:

    1. You have failed if you decide to change careers. You are obligated to treat people — you trained for it. If you want to leave, it means you are doing something wrong – which can be remedied by additional training. You should WANT to. There is something wrong with you if you don’t. (My thoughts: I actually know people who believe this, and don’t hesitate to make their feelings known. And all those courses that build you up with supercharged instructors, telling you, “Doctor, you can start doing this in your practice on Monday morning” never seemed to work).

    2. If a particular treatment does not work out, and needs to be modified or changed, it is most likely your fault. You’ve done something wrong – missed removing caries, failed to see a pinpoint shadow on a radiograph, didn’t check the crown margin carefully enough, etc. etc.

    (My thoughts: People are treated by physicians — even the most knowledgeable experienced ones — who often must try certain procedures before there is success. Dentistry has created an environment where the patient has been taught to believe that if a filling comes out, it was done wrong and the dentist is to blame. If there is recurrent caries around a crown, it must be the dentist’s fault. Yet, the oral surgeon or physician treating a cancer patient never can guarantee that all of the cancer cells will be removed. My dermatologist once told me, “We are dealing with biology, loaded with variables, and therefore the result is somewhat unpredictable”. It just isn’t presented the same in dentistry, yet the oral cavity is an environment of variables and factors that can adversely affect procedures that are incredibly technique sensitive).

    3. You need to be available to see patients on an emergency basis, regardless of what your other obligations may be. (My thoughts: I actually know a dentist who tells patients he is on-call 24 hours a day, and gives out his cell phone number. He thinks it makes him look like “Super-Dentist” in the patient’s eyes — that he is so in love with dentistry, it is his entire life. That is insane. Physicians may be on call, usually rotating with other physicians, but the patient goes to an emergency room for an actual emergency (what a novel idea!). How can you possibly pursue other interests with any true focus if in the back of your mind you are waiting for the phone to ring or a pager go off, weekend after weekend?).

    These are just a few thoughts. I could go on and on, but I’ve already taken a ton of space. Again, the introverted empathetic person will have a difficult time resolving even these few (of many) issues that “come with the territory”.
    I also believe that dental school (at least mine) was not a place of learning, but nothing more than a hazing ritual, and of being taught (actually, often demeaned) by depressed and miserable dentists. That certainly didn’t help matters.

    With all of this going on (consciously and sub-consciously), it is often hard to focus on developing other interests that we may have a passion for. At least it was for me. But now…. I am finally learning to let go.

    1. Excellent summary of what is wrong in our profession. Point #2 is especially distressing. The public’s opinion of us is one of a car mechanic. Witness when they say , “Dr X did crappy work” , emphasis on work, not treatment. I can’t tell you how many people are surprised to hear that we even went to college thinking of it as a technical degree. Totally agree with the examples above. They have no idea that teeth and gums apparently are part of the body. Or that biology is unpredictable, etc. on top of that, I can’t tell you how many times a colleague has slammed my treatment to patients seeking another opinion. I can guarantee that 9/10 the second dentist will under treatment plan to raise suspicion and keep the patient. This career has become a terrible financial investment for young dentists and the only way they can keep their head above water is by overtreating. The ones that can’t due to morals suffer greatly. I, glad after 12 arduous years I can finally put this behind me

    2. Eric, your points are really good, esp #2. After 25 years in the profession, you get a thick skin, but some days are harder than others. People can be absolutely horrible and so rude. I told a patient he had 11 cavities and he flipped me the bird and got really mad. I said, “Well man, I didn’t sneak into your house at night and pour sugar into your mouth while you were sleeping.”
      I think one of the biggest problems is how spoiled Americans have become. Everything is an entitlement and has to be done yesterday. There is no personal responsibility anymore.

    3. Eric, don’t you think that we, as a profession, have trained patients to do what you say in #2. (I love that you numbered them, btw!) 3. is a very good point about why we may not feel able to pursue other passions. Being on call was always one of my most anxiety-ridden parts of the job. It seems a little irrational, but I always struggled with wanting to be available for patients vs. wanting my life. There was always so much guilt even if it wasn’t an emergency, and I would spend all weekend worrying calls would come in.

      Great confirmations about how your being an introvert forced into extrovert really affected your mental/emotional well being.

      1. Yes, somewhere along the line, dentists are often trained (persuaded? brainwashed?) into thinking that if a treatment fails, or needs to be modified, it is because they have done something wrong. I believe this starts in dental school, due to the poor instructional methods that are often employed. After all, we are training to become mechanics!

        Of course I realize that there are dentists whose work could need some improvement, just as there are bad physicians. But I don’t believe they are the majority, by any means.

        Also I believe that many dentists — in the privacy of their own offices (not at conventions when they appear to be so “chummy”) — will criticize other dentists’ work in front of a patient, to make themselves look better. I know… it’s a pretty negative view (and sad state) of the profession, but I have seen and heard this happening on more than one occasion. Patients hear that and believe it.

        And I spent many weekends worrying and waiting for emergency calls as well — which directly affected my complete attention and enjoyment of that time. Even if no calls came in, the thought was always in the back of my mind — at any moment I might have to deal with a patient who thought they were in an “emergency” situation. Over the years, I’d gotten paged at a baseball game, a wedding, on a biking excursion, on the way to a movie, just to name a few. It’s not worth it!

  9. Correction to above… I meant to say that the ‘perception’ is that we are mechanics (as Cat iii originally stated). I don’t think we went *into* school thinking that way. Although, I do remember a T-shirt that was sold at the school, advising “Drill ‘Em, Fill ‘Em, Bill ‘Em”. Ok, I do have a sense of humor, and yes, this is somewhat clever, but it perpetuates the mechanic perception, and that we are all about $$$. Doesn’t help much in establishing a trusting Dr/Pt relationship.

    1. So true. And I’ll never forgive them for teaching me that once I touched a tooth I owned it. I get the importance of responsibility, but I took that message way too seriously, and I always felt like every failure was my fault– I took it to the extreme, and it destroyed my spirit.

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