As female dentists, we face a unique set of personal and professional challenges. Some women seem able to effortlessly juggle a busy practice and a bustling family. However, in almost 20 years as a working mom, I have learned that harnessing my energy and using it wisely becomes more challenging as life evolves. Here are some practical solutions for your daily circus.
Practice extreme self-care
We all know that in the event of an in-flight emergency, we should put on our oxygen mask before helping others. Taking care of ourselves first sets us up to be better women for our families and our patients. My extreme self-care includes eating healthy foods, scheduling monthly massages and enjoying daily quiet time, even if it's just for 15 minutes.
As a young dentist, you or I might not notice the aches and pains that accompany a long day of dentistry. Aging reminds us that physical fitness is vitally important, not just for career longevity, but also for quality of life. Spend time daily undoing the physical repercussions of practicing dentistry. A technique I utilize is yoga. Yoga stretches the body, unwinds your mind, and strengthens muscles you didn't even know you had.
Not into yoga? Find something you like and do it regularly, even if it's something as simple as walking every day. Not only will your body feel great, but you'll also realize you need exercise for stress release and mental health. Maintaining physical fitness will replenish your energy.
Implementing ergonomic principles will reduce energy-draining physical and mental stress. Focus on minimizing operator fatigue and maximizing efficiency.
Since most dental equipment is designed with the male practitioner in mind, re-evaluate your scalers, doctor chair and loupes. Ask dental reps about instruments or equipment specifically designed for women practitioners. For example, one manufacturer makes petite syringes designed to fit smaller hands. Less time spent dealing with pain from ill-fitting equipment equates to more time spent on other parts of your life. Consider it an investment in your wellness.
After graduation, overwhelmed by student-loan debt, I strived to live frugally. My non-dental friends who entered the workforce immediately after college, became mesmerized by their steady income. They spent their paychecks on designer handbags, fancy cars and chic apartments. We joked that they were living the “doctor's lifestyle” without all the schooling. Over the years their incomes plateaued but their spending didn't, leaving them in debt.
By living modestly, I paid off student loans, started a practice and secured other assets, positioning me in a better place financially than my college cronies. Less debt means less stress.
I live in a great neighborhood in a very nice home. Could a fancier house better showcase my success? Sure. But why increase my financial burden? Less debt means I can work less and spend more time with my family. Or I could save to retire early. Less debt means more options.
Focus on personal development
A female dentist quickly learns that without good people skills, she's either viewed a doormat or labeled as a witch (or worse). Be wise. Learn effective communication skills for dealing with staff, patients, vendors and landlord, as well as your family.
Resources that can help you learn these skills include books, seminars and podcasts. I love podcasts because I can listen to them while doing dishes or driving to soccer practice.
Surround yourself with people who make you better. If a friend is a healthy eater or super organized, pick her brain. Utilize pearls gleaned to become a better version of yourself. Hire a life coach to help you achieve your personal-development goals through various activities and accountability sessions.
Strive to maintain a balanced life. While I'd rather read a dental journal than a fashion magazine when poolside, disconnecting from dentistry for a window of time is refreshing. The same goes for family life. Don't make home life all about chores and sports schedules. Build in downtime during which you can relax with your family—without an agenda.
Find a mentor
Develop a mentorship relationship with a colleague you respect and trust. Consider having both male and female mentors, as each will offer different perspectives. Choose a person worthy of both professional and personal admiration. Cultivate and maintain these relationships as a valuable resource throughout your career.
Don't know anyone worthy of that designation? Scour Dentaltown message boards. Find a Townie whose work or opinions you admire and follow her or him for indirect mentorship. For a “hands-on” approach, consider Dentaltown's Mentorship Program, which was specifically designed to make sure no dentist ever has to practice alone.
Plan your family life
Before starting a family, discuss timing and expectations with your spouse. (Actually, this is a good discussion to have with your partner before even deciding on marriage.) Parenting is an enormous responsibility for both parents. However, a larger part of child rearing often falls on the mother.
The obligations of business ownership can creep into family time. Decide who will be responsible for various family duties and how to make allowances for practice issues.
Streamline your home life
Make your home life more efficient by outsourcing whatever you can. Many neighborhoods offer a variety of services that will cater to your needs. Utilize a cleaning service for your home, a mobile car wash for your vehicles and dry cleaner that will pick up from your doorstep.
Use a slow cooker. It's perfect for those long clinical days that end in sprinting from soccer practice to piano lessons. With a little planning, dinner will be ready when you get home. No time to buy groceries? There are grocery delivery services too. You can even find companies (Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, Home Chef or Plated, among others) that will deliver a box of fresh dinner ingredients to your door, complete with meal-preparation instructions.
My favorite find of 2015 was Amazon Prime. For a small fee, your subscription entitles you to expedited free shipping on many Amazon purchases. Forget to pick up paper towels for the office? No time to get a birthday gift for the party next weekend? Order on Amazon. The incentive of free shipping has shown me how much shopping can be accomplished online, which saves me from running around town.
Accept help when it's offered
Children have an unpredictable impact on life. Life with kids quickly gets exponentially busier. Women tend to want to do it all. But a wise person accepts help. Say yes to doting grandparents who want time with your littles. Sure, your kids will be spoiled rotten, but the special bond formed between your kids and your folks is worth it. Spend that kid-free time nurturing your relationship with your spouse.
Hire help when needed
Hire a babysitter to free up an occasional hour. Trust me, the kids need a break from you, too. Giving them time to miss you will be good for your relationship.
Hand off minor business duties. This may mean hiring an actual office manager, not pawning off your work onto your already maxed-out front-office person. Consider a business consultant to help streamline office systems so you can be mentally present when you get home.
Hire a personal assistant. He or she can run errands, like taking pets to vet and grooming appointments, waiting for repairmen, mailing packages, etc. This frees you up to be more engaged with your family. Remember, it's the quality of the time spent together that really matters.
At each stage of your career or family life, look for ways to free up time so you can harness your energy and live your best life. You're not superwoman. Let yourself off that unrealistic hook. You don't have to do it all.
But with a bit of creativity and organization, you can create a life of meaning and joy for yourself, your staff and your family. They deserve it—and so do you
Dr. Josie Dovidio graduated in 1997 from Northwestern University Dental School with honors from the Academy of General Dentistry. She completed advanced training at the VA Medical Center in North Hills, California where she served as chief dental resident. Dr. Dovidio lives in Southern California with her husband and two sons and runs a busy private practice in Simi Valley, CA. She also mentors women who are interested in dentistry as a career. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.