One of the reasons that many of you have chosen dentistry as a profession is to establish autonomy. You’d like to set your own schedule, take vacations when you please and not answer to a boss. However, patients want to be seen early in the morning and late at night, so your workdays will be long. Patients want to be seen during the weekend, so your weekends will be short. While it’s tempting to believe that you will be able to schedule your patients to meet your needs, you may not be able to meet your financial obligations if you do. If you learn to balance your work and your life while you are in dental school, it may be easier for you to continue to do so once you enter the profession. We have some simple suggestions that might help.
- Organize yourself. The workload in dental school is much greater than you experienced in college. Once you graduate and begin to assume more responsibility, both professionally and personally, the workload will be even greater. In order to ensure that your time is managed efficiently, first do what you have to do, and then do what you want to do. In addition, out of the tasks that must get done, it’s best to start off with the ones you like the least. However, if you’re feeling paralyzed and can’t get motivated, begin by chipping away at the easier tasks. As your checklist shrinks, you will gain the momentum and self-confidence to challenge yourself with the more imposing tasks.
- Give yourself a break. It’s always best not to leave things for the last minute, but some people take longer than others to get started. If you are one of those people, stop punishing yourself when ideas don’t flow. What many call procrastination, we prefer to think of as “development time.” We believe that down time is necessary to allow the brain to relax and begin to produce results. Have you ever noticed how many ideas you get in the shower? Giving your brain a rest can lead to some of your most creative and productive moments. So when you’re stuck and can’t move on, try to engage in mindless activities (such as cleaning your apartment or cooking yourself a healthy dinner) that will give your brain the rest it needs while still allowing you to feel like you’ve accomplished something.
- Figure out what you need to nourish your heart, mind and soul. Your career is very important, but should it always be your first priority? When is it important for family to come first? What about exercise and sleep? How about fun? As Jack Nicholson’s character says in The Shining (1980), “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Once in a while, you need to get your mind off of dentistry. Join clubs or groups that have nothing to do with the profession. Volunteer to walk dogs at a local pet rescue facility. Learn to knit. Plan a bike ride with some buddies. But when? You’re so busy! In order to make sure that you have necessary leisure time, schedule it into your calendar and make it a non-negotiable priority.
- Ask for help. When you are overwhelmed, rather than trying to hide the fact that you feel as though you’re spinning out of control, reach out to those in your support system. The people who know you and love you may know what to do to help you. If not, seek professional assistance before your anxiety escalates.
While it may seem counterintuitive, some believe that if you need to get a job done, you should assign it to a busy person. During our long and demanding careers, we have found that even when the timely completion of a task seems impossible, we manage to succeed in meeting our deadline without sacrificing personal pleasure. After all, although we greatly enjoy our profession, we always keep in mind that we work to live, rather than live to work.
~ Dr. Ivy Peltz and Dr. Eric Studley, Doccupations
Dr. Ivy Peltz and Dr. Eric Studley are both GP directors and clinical associate professors at New York University College of Dentistry, where Dr. Studley is the director of the practice management curriculum. Dr. Studley is also the CEO of a nationally based insurance brokerage company specializing in the insurance and financial needs of dentists (DrEricStudley.com). Dr. Peltz has a private practice in New York City (IvyPeltzdds.com). They are both the co-founders of Doccupations, an algorithmic dental job matching website (Doccupations.com).