You can’t pour from an empty cup
Practice Plan Regional Support Manager, Chris Nicholson shares his suggestions for ways practices can make sure everyone on the team is pouring from a full cup
Although I have spent the past 10 years working in dentistry and the healthcare sector, I started my career in retail with Asda. Retail management is a notoriously demanding career as, along with long and often unsociable hours, there can be a lot of travel involved, so you need to be able to learn how to become resilient. As I look after quite a number of dental practices, I can see how some of them are really struggling at the moment.
There are a lot of principals, practice managers, dental nurses and other team members who are exhausted because of the demands placed on them over the pandemic, and due to the recruitment and retention crisis. There’s a chronic shortage of qualified or experienced dental staff at the moment. If they have a vacancy, practices can’t find people to fill it for love nor money, which has an effect on the people still working there who have to cover the extra workload caused by being a team member down. Even if they’ve managed to avoid catching COVID themselves, their colleagues are likely to have caught it, or at least the Omicron variant, so they’ve had to cover for people off ill too. And then there’s still the backlog of appointments to clear from lockdown. If they haven’t reached it already, people are close to burnout.
Although a lot of my job is about supporting practices with business processes, I also feel it’s important for me to support them with building resilience within their teams. When I worked in retail, I spent time going around the country opening new stores, which was quite stressful at times. There were often last-minute glitches to overcome and challenging deadlines to meet. I always had one eye on how my team members were coping with the pressure, but I also had to keep an eye on my own wellbeing too. If I wasn’t at my best, then I wouldn’t have been able to support them properly, so I learned to prioritise myself and my own wellbeing.
That’s one of the messages I’m trying to pass on to my practices. You have to look after your wellbeing if you want to be able to help others. I think people who work in caring professions and environments struggle a bit with that concept. They’re so used to caring for everyone else that they almost feel it’s selfish to prioritise themselves. It’s not selfishness, it’s self-care and it’s important for everyone. There’s a good reason the instruction in a pre-flight safety talk on an aeroplane is to make sure you put on your own oxygen mask before you start to help anyone else. If you aren’t OK, then you can’t help anyone else.
There are lots of things you could do that count as self-care, but one of the simplest and easiest things to do is to take a break. It may seem as if there aren’t enough hours in the day to be able to take a break, but not prioritising time to step away from things and stop for a while is a false economy.
Breaks are essential for making sure people can still perform at their best. Without breaks, people lose focus and that’s when mistakes happen. If you do manage to take a break, then going for a walk and getting some fresh air will increase the benefits. Exercise releases feel good hormones and cortisol, which helps us deal with stress. Even a 10-minute walk can be enough to improve your mood and clear your head so you’re ready to get back to work with more focus.
Of course, eating healthily, drinking plenty of water and getting a good night’s sleep are things we should be doing whether we’re stressed or not. Fuelling your body with the right food, rather than relying on sugary or fatty snacks, will help you avoid some of the energy dips you may experience as will making sure you’re taking in enough fluids.
None of these things are rocket science, really. But when I talk to teams about self-care and remind them they need to take care of themselves to be able to take care of their patients, they seem to understand that putting your own wellbeing first is not a selfish thing to do.
Chris Nicholson is a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan and has more than 15 years’ experience in the healthcare industry, including five in dental practice. Practice Plan is the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, partnering with over 1,800 dental practices and offering a wide range of business support services. For more information visit the Practice Plan website: www.practiceplan.co.uk