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Inside Dental Hygiene
August 2022

Bravely Beating Burnout

Pulling out the weeds in order to bloom

Kari Carter-Cherelus, RDH, DA

During the initial COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, I, like many, turned to gardening in an attempt to avoid boredom. I envisioned being able to consume the vegetation I planted and grew from seeds. How did it go? It was a disaster! I failed miserably. What I produced mainly was a lot of weeds. Despite all I did to cater to my so-called plants, nothing thrived.

What does my failed attempt at gardening have to do with dental hygiene? As dental hygienists, we should not just cast the seeds of our career and hope for the best; we must be intentional in how we plant. True gardeners know when to plant, where to plant, how often to water, and the importance of weeding frequently. They are conscious of the soil quality, seed quality, and the need to protect the garden from predators. They seek out help from experts if they notice that their best efforts are not yielding desirable results.

Likewise, we have to constantly assess what we have planted in the form of our budding career. We might feel at times as though we are wilting away, and weeds of discontentment and mental anguish might thrive robustly in our thoughts. We need to pull out weeds of negativity, burnout, and career dissatisfaction to instead propagate passion, contentment, and continuous growth. To protect our own harvest, we may have to fight off predators that come in the form of bullies or hostile work environments. At times, it serves us best to seek guidance from mentors or licensed professionals to help us reframe our mindset while dealing with our complex emotions.

Many hygienists report that they are suffering from burnout due to a lack of work/life balance, overwhelming patient loads, inadequate instruments, inflexible schedules, lack of growth potential, or bullying, among other things. Some report being unhappy in their current jobs but are afraid to do anything about it. They are afraid to communicate their concerns with their employer or to change jobs. I understand that fear, yet I also firmly believe that "nothing changes if nothing changes." Change can be scary and uncomfortable, but, when we become brave and act, our careers can flourish by recognizing we are the architects of our own lives.

We can take back control of our careers through self-evaluation to determine what changes we need to make to beat the burnout and bitterness we may be experiencing. As we fight against burnout, we must strategically develop a game plan in order to be successful in our endeavor. This plan will vary for each of us, as we all have different blind spots, concerns, and stressors. We all have different variables in our lives that affect the decisions we make. Remember that indecision is a decision. Common practices that can help get us on a better path are networking, journaling, seeking the help of a professional therapist, leaving toxic workplaces, communicating our concerns effectively with management, investing in our career, and being active in our professional organizations.

When we interview at offices, we must make sure that we plant ourselves in environments that are beneficial to our growth. We should decide on what our governing principles are and try to find a work environment that aligns with them. We want to find ourselves in a positive environment that supports our continued growth and development. However, sometimes we simply must create that environment by being the change we want to see in others. By becoming solution oriented, we will be able to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of our lives and gain a new perspective while becoming whole again.

As a fellow hygienist who initially failed at doing much of this throughout most of her career, I have found these tools to be incredibly important. I dealt with bullying, gaslighting, micro-aggressions, discontentment, discrimination, and fear. This eventually resulted in me suffering from burnout and workplace PTSD. It took a great deal of work to recover from burnout. I then courageously followed my passion of public speaking as well as fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming an author. I am now thankful I was able to weather all the storms by being firmly planted despite all the challenges I faced.

"One day you will look back and see you were blooming all along."-Morgan Harper Nichols

About the Author

Kari Carter-Cherelus, RDH, DA
Clinical Dental Hygienist
West Palm Beach, Florida

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