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11.14.08 Issue #349 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

All Stressed Out And No Place To BLOW!
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Dentistry would be great if it weren’t for the ______. Fill in the blank: if it weren’t for the office manager, the patients, the insurance companies, the dumpy building, the schedule or the suffocating accounts receivables. Regardless of the stressors on your list, if you are like many of your colleagues, stress has become accepted as part of the day-to-day routine, and is looked upon as the “necessary evil” of the business. For some it’s practically a badge of honor; for others it’s the number one reason why they would choose any other profession if they were given the opportunity.

Dentistry has a long-standing reputation for being a pressure-cooker profession. After all, doctors are working backwards, upside down and in a cave. Compound that with difficult patients, challenging staff and sometimes brutal schedules and you have all the makings for professional burnout. Consequently, dentistry becomes drudgery for far too many clinicians as stress manifests itself in loss of energy, low self-esteem, poor or no decision-making, costly mistakes, illness, accidents and more.

Ironically, in spite of all of the stressors, dentistry remains one of the very few professions in which the doctor and staff can have almost total control over the issues that cause stress in the practice—if, that is, they choose to control them.

You are your own worst enemy. You know what you do not like about your practice. You know what causes your stress, and many of you will try to implement systems and guidelines that are supposed to eliminate that stress, but then the exceptions begin. We see it in practice after practice. Doctors will say they want one thing, but then their actions give them exactly what they don’t want. For example, a doctor will say, “I have too many patients.” So together we develop a system to produce as much or more dentistry on fewer patients per day, which is exactly what the doctor says he/she wanted. The net income has increased, but then the doctor finds he/she has more time on her/his hands, so she/he tells the staff to schedule more patients, which completely undermines the effort to reduce the stress.

Accounts receivables are another major concern for practices and a source of significant stress for dentists. A doctor will admonish the business employee by saying that she/he wants zero accounts receivables in one breath, only to walk into the operatory and extend a zero-interest loan to a patient/friend in the next. It’s the exceptions, inconsistencies and special cases that cause systems to crumble and stress to build for everyone.

Scheduling and finances are near the top of the list of practice stressors, but one other issue reigns supreme over all others. Conflict. This is a huge concern for many practices. In fact, conflict among team members is rated as the greatest source of stress in the dental workplace.

In many cases, stress among the team is the result of miscommunication. When problems arise, doctors and staff need to go to that person and try to resolve it. Conflict-induced stress may also be the result of a system pitting one person against another, and not necessarily because team members don’t like each other or cannot get along. When systems are not set up well, not administered well or not administered consistently, we see stress. And when a system pits one person against another you’ve got plenty of stress and it’s just a matter of time before things blow.

But it is conflict surrounding a negative employee who is engaging in actions that are dividing and demoralizing the team that absolutely cannot be ignored. Doctors have it in their power to swiftly address and, if necessary, eliminate this significant source of stress. Sadly though, many dentists will go to great lengths to avoid dealing with the person. The problem employee is left to continue to drain the effectiveness of the team and the productivity of the practice. Yet when doctors finally do address it, stress is reduced immediately in almost 100% of cases involving a seriously problematic employee.

Next week, how to turn down the “heat” in your practice.

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