When you attended orientation before starting dental hygiene school, your instructors stressed the importance of a support system to help you cope with the difficulties that lie ahead. Now you’ve graduated, passed boards, and secured your license! It’s time to become the hygienist you trained so diligently to become.
Unfortunately, no hygiene program curriculum stresses the importance of the support you need to successfully transition from school to your professional career. Here I’ll discuss preventing burnout for new grads because starting a new career can be overwhelming and unpredictable.
New grads are not only adjusting to the physical, mental, and emotional demands of our profession, they’re also molding themselves as new clinicians. There’s a high rate of burnout and fatigue in our profession, so it’s just as important to have a support system following hygiene school as it was to have one during school.
I’ve compiled some strategies and advice from colleagues that helped me navigate through burnout my first two years after school. By staying connected with classmates, focusing on wellness, being open to advice from mentors, pursuing continued learning, and advocating for our profession, I’m able to keep burnout at bay.
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Develop your dental community
Our hygiene school community is chosen for us, and we spend countless hours in clinics and classes with our peers. Once we’re out in the real world, our community changes and we find ourselves in offices surrounded by coworkers. It’s ideal to have a healthy, collaborative, and positive work environment, but I know that isn’t always the case. When searching for jobs, don’t focus only on the pay or hours; also look at the type of environment you’ll be working in for 32-plus hours a week.
It’s crucial to have community you can be part of and contribute to at work as well as outside of work. Set aside time to keep up with former classmates, be active in professional organizations, and attend conferences where you can build your community, all while investing in professional education. Mentorship programs that are immensely helpful in navigating the first few years and beyond are available for new grads.
Take advantage of lifelong learning
When we took our dental hygiene oath, we committed to continually improve our professional knowledge and skills. Where some argue that boredom can set in from doing the same work repeatedly, I believe the cure for this is to focus on constant improvement of our skills. This allows us to add a refreshing take on the importance of our services by incorporating new products and procedures into our practice.
There’s a lot of knowledge about the oral-systemic connection available that we can use to revitalize our practices. Educating ourselves about these connections will allow us to provide a high standard of care to patients and focus on much more than “cleaning teeth.” One of my favorite resources is the American Academy of Oral Systemic Health.
Learn to practice sympathy versus empathy
My first mentor out of school said, “You can’t care more about patients’ oral health than they do.” Initially I thought this was jaded and cynical. However, as I caught myself becoming frustrated with patients who never improved despite my best recommendations, I realized what she meant.
As health-care providers, we care for patients’ health. However, when this care extends past what they’re willing to put in, we contribute to our compassion fatigue and wear ourselves down. I’ve realized that being sympathetic without being empathetic is key to not becoming emotionally drained.
Prioritize overall wellness
We educate our patients about the connection between their oral and overall health. We must realize that aspects of our health are interconnected as well. We’ve all heard that to effectively care for others we must take care of ourselves. Focusing on healthy choices for our nutrition, exercise, mental health, and stress management affects every aspect of our wellness, which in turn affects the level of care we’re able to provide.
Self-care can include lunchtime walks instead of sitting in the breakroom with negative coworkers, practicing mindfulness, developing a yoga or stretching routine, journaling, and decompressing and processing your day before shifting focus to what matters outside of the operatory.
I hope you’re able to find some helpful tips that allow you to avoid burnout. Practicing mindfulness can help you recognize burnout early, remind you to focus on your “why,” and lean on your support system. I hope you can navigate difficult feelings with grace and have patience with yourself. Remember that as new grads we bring something special to our field—a fresh passion and fire for dental hygiene. Don’t allow burnout to extinguish your flame.