I graduated in 2000 from dental school and I was excited, scared and ready to take on the world with my dental degree. There was so much to do in so little time along with trying to make the best decisions for me and my wife, who was also pregnant with our first son.

“Should I start a practice, buy a practice, do an associateship, work in a clinic, do a residency …?”

I had so many questions and thoughts about what would be best and so many unknowns in my “new life” and new role as a dental professional. At that time, I was lucky enough to have a good friend who offered me an associateship and made my transition easy for me from dental school to the “real” world of dentistry and to start my new life. But it also gave me a great opportunity to learn new things clinically as well as how to work with a team of other people and patients.

It wasn’t long afterward I took the big leap of faith and took on a private practice. Wow, I was really moving forward in my professional career!

The Reality of Owning a Dental Practice

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Well, it didn’t take me very long to realize being involved with dentistry was a lot tougher than dental school. I was now the doctor/dentist, CEO, CFO, HR director, benefits coordinator, payroll specialist, office manager, liaison to the dental insurance, and the list goes on. There were so many more things to juggle than just showing up at the clinic in dental school and diagnosing treatment needed, as well as getting the patient back so you could get the treatment done so you could graduate.

When it comes to treating our patients after graduation, my dream was simple: I am now the “doctor” and I could simply tell a patient they have a dental problem, and they would look me in the eye and say, “Ok, well I guess we need to get that fixed doc.” They get up and walk up to the front desk area, pay happily and schedule their next appointment with excitement and anticipation that their new unsung dental hero was going to rescue their dental health. 

Nope. It was often times a much different response from patients: 

“It doesn’t hurt.”

“Hasn’t bothered me.”

“Do I need to fix it now?”

“Can’t we just watch it?”

“Does my insurance cover it?” 

“Is it going to hurt?” 

“I hate coming to the dentist.”

The list goes on and on, and before you know it, the conversation changes from helping our patients to get healthier to simply trying to figure out what just happened and why, once again, we have failed at getting our patients healthier and maybe even engaged in their health. 

You then get up and walk up front and find that the patient didn’t even schedule for their needed treatment because “they will call your office back,” and they didn’t even schedule their next appointment for hygiene. Then your front office scheduler tells you your next two-hour scheduled patient just called because they are sick and they will call you back when they are feeling better. The day just keeps getting better and better!

Now, if that isn’t enough, you head back to your office only to have your trusted assistant come in and tell you about another staff member not doing their job. Now you realize you have a staff issue brewing and causing havoc in the office. On top of that, you notice that your payroll needs to be done today and the office bank account is looking a little less fit that you want it to be. Then your front office scheduler pops in to let you know you have a patient coming in who is now having pain in a tooth that was “fine” before you worked on it the other day (so much for being their dental hero) and they are not happy.

The list goes on and on as there can be many challenges in dentistry!

Ready to Quit Dentistry

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If you have been in dentistry for any period of time, and especially if you are an entrepreneur and practice owner, many of these things will strike a special note for you. And if it does, then you have been like me many times during my 16-plus-year career: tired and frustrated with the business aspects of dentistry, including dealing with difficult patients, trying team members and, of course, those wonderful insurance companies that keep coming at us and our patients for us “conspiring” together to do unnecessary dental treatment. And, then it happens.

You are burned out and it’s time to QUIT!

Yep, quit. Walk away from all of the headaches and find something that is less stressful, do something in which people will actually appreciate all you do for them and not HATE coming to see you.

Yes, I have “quit” during my career. I admit it. Dentistry is tough.

Fortunately for me, I never really did make it any further than having those tough days of “quitting.” But more importantly, I had some great support from family members as well as from fellow dental professionals who helped guide and direct me to the path of focusing on making myself better – better for myself, my patients and my family. Ultimately, that guidance helped me become more resistant to what many call “burn out,” and to be simply happier with myself and my chosen profession. Like so many times and things in our lives, we can’t change what is out of control. But we can focus on changing ourselves and making ourselves better. 

Reigniting the Passion

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So, how did I do this? I did this by taking dental continuing education – workshops, seminars and more. Not only did I learn, but I got out of my isolated “box” at the dental office and got to interact with other dental professionals who were just like me: trying to be the best they can be, take better care of their patients, and be a better leader and practice owner. We are all simply trying to lead a happier, more fulfilling career and life.

But wait … there’s more. I got to meet a lot great people and made some new friends, and guess what?  They were just like me in another aspect: They struggled with the many facets of dentistry today. Wow! I could actually talk to someone who knew what I was talking about and had experienced the many struggles that I have, too! 

It wasn’t long before I found myself looking forward to going to a variety of continuing education courses and dental meetings as I found myself leaving many of them with a new found knowledge and energy that was missing in me before. It was with this new knowledge and energy that I found myself excited about going back in the office, ready to take on the challenges I was facing before. Now, however, I did so with a new energy and enthusiasm to make the necessary changes to take my dental office, team and professional life to a different level. It has been through this process that I continually make strides in my life, personally and professionally. 

So, if you are reading this article and find many of these things true for you, but you haven’t taken the plunge of getting out of your box, or you are on the verge of being burned out or quitting, then I suggest you find some great continuing education courses and take the plunge. I think you will find many people like you there with a lot of the same struggles and issues. And if you will let it, it will change you and your life … for the better. 

(Click this link for more dentistry articles by Dr. Jeff Lineberry.)

Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., Visiting Faculty and Contributing Author, Spear Education www.cccdds.com


Commenter's Profile Image Andrew C.
October 25th, 2016
Jeff, As you know your article hits a personal spot for me. You and Jay Dorgan were my first mentors when I was burnt out and ready to quit. Spear and the many Visiting Faculty allowed me to find my passion for dentistry and a daily happiness I never thought existed. Thanks for putting into words what so many feel. Sometimes just seeing others are in the same situation helps ease the pain and let's us know we have places like Spear Educatin to turn to for answers and a great community. Andy
Commenter's Profile Image Jeff L.
October 25th, 2016
Thanks Andy for your kind words. I'm glad I was there and able to help you along your journey. As you mentioned, we all have struggles and challenges we deal with every day! One important thing that I have failed to mention and you brought to my attention: community and safety. It's important to be involved with or take courses in a "safe" environment. "Safe" in a sense that you feel comfortable enough to share with those around you. Otherwise, you can leave feeling worse than you came, which only makes things worse. That is one thing for me, that I make sure I always try to do for anyone I mentor or help...Thanks again Andy.