Fig 1

Think back over the past year, during which time many dental practices were shut down. Consider the uncertainty about where the world was going and what the future held for dentistry. This was a turbulent, scary and anxious time for all of us.

Despite the challenges, dentistry has returned – certainly not to pre-pandemic levels, but our practices are open. Patients are returning to our offices to pursue treatment and vaccination rates are creating a greater sense of stability. These are all good things!

Thinking back on that stressful time, however, and it's clear that some of us were very stressed whereas others managed situations in a calmer and less tumultuous way. Why were some individuals more fearful, anxious and insecure while others seemed to be controlled, organized and rational?

The difference is resilience.

Fig 2

Most of us think that resilience is a trait or ability that's innate to specific people – that these individuals simply possess the “grit” to withstand bigger setbacks than others. The reality is that all of us in the dental community are faced with situations that test our flexibility and adaptability. The pandemic was certainly one of those situations, but practice owners face minor challenges that demand resilience every day.

An unexpected decrease in patient care can reduce financial stability. The loss of a staff member can overburden the team that remains. A flood or fire can damage equipment and force the practice to close unexpectedly. As dentists and practice owners, we are routinely faced with situations that require us to “buck up and rally.”

The reality is that resilience is not something that is innate to us – both grit and resilience can be learned and nurtured through interactions with people in our personal and professional lives. Strong relationships help us build resilience and “push back” against stresses and challenges. Our network is key to creating the type of flexibility that allows us to adapt and thrive.

Fig 3

Why Relationships and Networks are Crucial for Resilient Leadership

Relationship networks help us shift work and manage work surges. Over scheduling, emergencies, late patients, and more can create circumstances where we become overwhelmed. If we have a good relationship with our team, the staff is better equipped to come together, re-organize the schedule, and help reduce workload.

Our network connections help to make sense of people, policies, or situations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult to understand and grasp an overwhelming diversity of opinions, recommendations, and mandates from local and national sources. Determining who and what to trust was near impossible but communicating with study club peers and colleagues helped many doctors (including me) make sense of the noise.

Our connections help us see a path forward. When young dentists have strong relationships and connections with more experience and knowledgeable clinicians, it can make a difference in providing a clearer outlook for the future. Out colleagues that have been there can provide insights and recommendations based on their lived experiences and can operate as guides and teachers when we need them.

Connections can help us find the confidence to advocate for ourselves. Our family friends and supporters can be a shoulder to cry on when necessary. In times of stress, difficulty and catastrophe, these individuals are there for provide support and advice we need to advocate for our own mental and physical wellbeing.

Our network reminds us of the purpose and meaning in our work. It is much easier to “buck up” and push forward when we are surrounded by people who value us. We do what we must do in life because our families and close supporters depend on us. These connections are the reason we get up and do what needs to be done.

Our connections provide empathetic support to help us turn our frustrations into action. It is easy to get down on ourselves and the world around us – and it's even easier to blame ourselves for ending up in challenging situations and positions. But this negative talk can contribute to a downward spiral of depression. Being able to rely on support offered around us by close friends; religious organizations; and even study club peers and colleagues can provide a more proactive perspective of the situation at hand.

Our networks can help us find levity in our situations and surroundings. During times of stress, finding humor can provide much needed relief. Being able to laugh with colleagues and peers can bring a sense of comfort needed to forge ahead. This can be so true in times of extreme strain, anxiety, and circumstance.

Our networks broaden our perspectives as individuals so we can maintain perspective during setbacks. A large and diverse network of connections makes a big difference in managing and negotiating challenging situations because they can offer alternative perspectives. Connecting with individuals from civic groups, book clubs, dinner, and garden clubs, and more helps us continuously build and broaden our perspective and resilience.

Fig 4

From catastrophic incidences to everyday setbacks, resilience, and the ability to persevere through difficult times is a valuable attribute for any clinician or practice owner. It's much more than simply possessing grit and determination – our networks and relationships are crucial for fostering resiliency in your daily life. Take advantage of the support system and community around you to develop a resilient mindset!


Jeffrey Bonk, D.D.S., is a member of Spear Resident Faculty.