Time for a break: realities of a temporary break from dentistry (Pt 2)

* Part 1 of “Time for a break: The realities of a temporary break from dentistry” was published Tuesday 19 November 2019.

Back to the books

Another key reason behind taking time out is to return to full-time study, either within dentistry or education in associated areas like business and marketing.

“Further education in any area that is going to add to your ability to do your job well is something that should be encouraged,” Dr Alex Holden says. “Instead of doing it parttime which can take significantly longer, some dentists either quit work or reduce their days in the clinic to become full-time students. It’s a matter of what works best for them.”

Other practitioners Dr Holden knows of have also taken a break from clinical practice to write a book, necessitating intense focus on the project. “When it’s all done, I have seen those same people head back to work and pick up right where they left off.”

The beautiful mind

Then there is the matter of personal wellbeing. Some dentists reward themselves with career milestones of 10 or 20 years by embarking on extended travels. For others, it is a time to focus on their mental health.

“Taking time out from the career can be enormously empowering and life-defining,” Julie Parker, director of the training consultancy Julie Parker Practice Success, says. “It’s vital especially if you’re finding it difficult to devote time and energy to rediscovering the joy and value of life and work due to life busyness.

“It’s important to put yourself in a position to see life from a different perspective to discover whether they are doing the work they feel is a contribution to the world.”

Community expectations about taking a break from work for personal wellbeing has changed significantly in recent decades, to often being accepted as a healthy and positive move.

“I like to believe it’s an accepted element within society now for people to tailor their careers to suit their own needs,” Dr Webb adds. “But this is personal business and information about every move and choice the practitioner makes does not need to be conveyed to the patients. This is when how it’s managed becomes so crucial.”

Covering all the bases

According to the Oral Health and Dental Care in Australia 2019 report, an estimated 4000 work in solo private practice and over 8000 in group practice. This reveals a significant number of dentists are self-employed, which can add new challenges to plans to take time out if the person who wants the time out is the boss.

Which is why long-term planning is so crucial to cover any absences, Dr Phillip Palmer of Prime Practice adds.

“If you want to make this work for the business, you need to spend time hiring a contractor or employee to cover the leave period and then train them properly about the culture of the practice so they know what is expected in terms of running the place.

“Allowing enough time for an appropriate handover could prove to be one of the most valuable investments to ensure the wellbeing of the future of the clinic.”

“Of everyone impacted by the dentist taking time out, the patient must be a key consideration. But if a practice has a strong team of dentists, this should not become a major issue”, says Dr Webb.

“Most patients are prepared to see someone else if they believe that they’re being well looked after, and know they’ll be able to get back to their own dentist by their next check-up. And think about this – most patients only see you once or twice a year, so they may not even miss their regular dentist who might be back at work by their next appointment.”

The way back

Once it’s time to return to the clinic, it’s a matter of either returning to your former place of employment or looking for a new gig. Then there’s the matter of whether an educational refresher is necessary on professional standards and latest innovations.

“The important thing when having a break is keeping the connection open with the profession, by ensuring you’re still on the mailing lists for the ADA magazines and newsletters, as well as any email updates, to remain in the loop,” Dr Webb says. “The ADA CPD portal is an excellent service for members to continue to access online education.”

In the case of exploring new standards in areas like infection control or practitioner policies, Dr Alex Holden suggests remaining in touch throughout the break might be easier than playing catch up just before returning.

“By doing just a little bit at a time, you stay in touch and you don’t get out of date,” he says. “If you are looking at the 60 hours of CPD we need to do, splitting that over 36 months is not much of a burden, but it will mean you are ready to go when it’s time to get back to work.”

And it’s not just the newest and latest developments that needs attention. After some time away, paying attention to the fundamental skills of the game with a refresher session might prove to be most valuable of all.

“Once you’ve learned your skills and had years of practise, I don’t think you lose them after taking a short time out,” Dr Phillip Palmer says. “Sometimes just a reminder of a few aspects is all that’s needed to kick everything back in and make the practitioner ready to take on the job once again for their next chapter.”

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