It took 10 years of higher education to complete my training as a pediatric dentist. And yet it only takes nine months to become a mother. The blending of these two entities — dentist and mother — creates an exponential challenge in itself, one that often, at least in my case, turns into quite a balancing act. "Balance" as defined by Webster's means: "A stable mental or psychological state; emotional stability." So how does one get to this sound, balanced state and perform all her duties better than par? In this article, I'll share my perspective on this delicate balancing act.
I graduated from dental school in 1995 and completed my pediatric dentistry residency in 1997. I stepped straight into private practice. I work full-time as a pediatric dentist in my own practice, averaging 30 to 35 hours per week of patient care time. I share my office building with my husband, who is extremely skillful in esthetic dentistry. I have had the unbelievable enjoyment of being a mom for five years now. I have three boys — a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a son born last December. My husband and I share all aspects and decision-making for our business as well as the raising of our children.
Prior to starting a family, I began a practice from scratch, hired my own team, and developed a marketing and customer service strategy conducive to my goals. One team member whom I chose not to hire — and still have not to this day — is an office manager. This is my role. It is my office, so I should be the one to manage it. Although it takes more time in my day-to-day routine to assume this role, the value is priceless. My team respects me in this role. Patients and solicitors are often caught off-guard when they ask the name of the office manager and are given my name. As office manager, my role is to address patient and team member concerns as they arise.
Not only am I the office manager, but I am also the boss, owner, and leader of my practice. As the boss, I make the rules, write the paychecks, and decide on the salaries and benefits. As the owner, I pay the bills, handle the tax issues, and address items from landscaping to new carpet. However, my primary role is as leader of my seven-member team. In that capacity, I am required to lead by example, delegate authority, and empower my team for the good of our office and patients.
I have found that having team members with children, and being a mother myself, makes me understanding of the personal time needed away from work for strep throat, high fevers, school plays, and award ceremonies. I also respect my team members' needs when it comes to their maternity leave, their desire to avoid nitrous oxide during pregnancy, or when they just need a little more rest during the day while they are expecting. I also keep in mind that each person's pregnancy, delivery, and recovery are unique, so I treat each case individually.
I have always practiced up to the day that I went into labor. The mechanics of practicing dentistry while being pregnant can be cumbersome, but the mechanisms to make it more comfortable for the practitioner can be creative. Some suggestions include scheduling two assistants chairside during operative procedures to speed them along more quickly. Drink lots of water, and snack in between patients so that sick-hungry feeling never has a chance to hit. I also recommend sitting on a high-quality doctor's stool with plenty of lower back support. This can save many sore backs and swollen ankles at the end of a pregnancy! Also, I only do operative procedures in my practice in the mornings. This is a year-round scheduling fact, but it definitely pays off during those last few months of pregnancy to keep you from leaning over patients all day when quadrants on their left side need restorative attention.
To make the doctor's pregnancy easier on patients, begin informing them months in advance of the doctor's upcoming maternity leave. As a pediatric dentist, the parents of my patients are very understanding of this situation, and they enjoy watching my family grow while I continue to take care of the dental health of their children. The majority of patients want to know the gender of the baby, when the baby is due, how I am feeling, and am I crazy? I usually answer, "You have to be a little bit crazy to be a pediatric dentist in the first place!"
So how do you pull it all together? Here are some suggestions I find beneficial to me, my team, and my family:
◊Read. I constantly read books on self-improvement, motivation, goal-setting, and leadership. I learn a lot through my own trials and errors, but also through someone else's insight.
◊Date night. When a friend first suggested "date night" to me just prior to the birth of our first son, my first thought was, "We are married; we don't 'date' anymore." As peculiar as the suggestion seemed at the time, I heard it brought up again from other friends and parents of my patients. So, I lined up date nights on Thursday nights following work. My husband and I spend the evening together, just the two of us, to reconnect from the wind-down of another hectic week. Sometimes we see a movie and do dinner, or go downtown and listen to music, or do a little shopping at the mall. We are now in our fifth year of "date night," and it continues to help us communicate and enjoy the reasons we sought each other in the first place.
◊No home at work and no work at home. What a great rule of thumb! Isn't this the stipulation we place on our team members? "If you have a problem at home, leave it on the doorstep — it's show time!" At times in the past, my husband and I have brought personal issues to the workplace. Not only is it inappropriate, but it sets a poor example as to how we want our team to act.
I had considered long ago bringing my children to the office daily and hiring a nanny to watch them. I never followed through with this idea, and I am thankful. My kids don't want to hang out at a dental office all day. And how can I focus and give 100 percent of myself to my team and my patients if I am distracted by my children's voices upstairs? Instead, my children are cared for by a woman who keeps about eight children total with help from her daughter-in-law. It is a wonderful home environment where my children learn to interact with other children of different ages and backgrounds. It has been a wonderful solution for our family's child-care needs.
To be realistic, sometimes work matters must come home — charts to be written up, financial business matters to be settled, etc. — so we reserve the time after our children are in bed to address these issues.
◊Be organized. As any new mom will tell you, during pregnancy there seems to be a need to clean, nest, arrange, regroup, and straighten one's things. From kitchen utensil drawers to alphabetizing that Christmas card list, the zest of energy during that last trimester helps you tackle these tasks. Staying organized year-round is my primary coping mechanism for life as a full-time mom, boss, and pediatric dentist. I have a filing system for everything! I buy birthday and Christmas cards and gifts months in advance. My PDA is a savior. Not only am I organized, but I have instilled these qualities in my team members as well. They have lists and files for everything. They do not tolerate clutter in their work areas and are very efficient because they have learned how to work smarter.
You really can have it all as a female in our profession. I believe dentistry is a perfect profession for women with families. Do some plates fall as I perform my balancing routine? Of course, but the show must go on!
Ann Bynum, DDS
Dr. Bynum, a pediatric dentist, has an insurance-free practice in a suburb of Greenville, S.C. She is a member of the ADA, ASDC, and the AAPD. You may contact Dr. Bynum by email at dr.ann@hollytreefamily dental.com, or by phone at (864) 297-5585.