17 Jun 2020  •  Blog, Covid-19  •  6min read By  • Hussein Hassanali

The COVID-19 chronicles: an associate’s view

Since my clinical days have reduced by 75%, I’ve tried to get away from the pressures of dentistry. As confirmed by the Dental Confidence Monitor each year, dentistry is a stressful profession to work in confounded by a number of variables.

Most of these are attributed to the burden of the NHS contract and the increasing regulation and risk of litigation. There could be a lot of dentists right now who are reflecting on whether it’s a profession they want to return to. Or if they do, then in what kind of capacity.

I’ll still try to complete a few hours of non-clinical dental work during the day. I try and write for a range of organisations to support the wider profession. Also, I’ve finally found the time to focus on completing the clinical portfolio that will hopefully count towards my PG Dip in Restorative and Aesthetic Dentistry.

I’ve done a few webinars to keep my CPD ticking over, but haven’t gone overboard. I don’t want to overload myself with too much information and fry my circuits. Also, any CPD should be based on quality and how it will meet your PDP goals, not on quantity to tick off the required number of hours.

I’m proud to have presented a webinar for Acteon to give me a chance to demonstrate my special interests in preventative and minimally invasive dentistry.

To switch off, I’ve got a couple of small DIY projects to get on with. I’ve also signed up for online courses. The first two are science and cooking and an astronomy class called From the Big Bang to Dark Energy.

It’s really nice to be able to wake up in the morning and enjoy listening to the birds without the traffic to drown them out. Usually, I’d be rushing around getting ready to leave for the practice. Lying in for those extra minutes then leisurely eating breakfast has set the tranquil tone for my days at home.

I definitely don’t regret training to become a dentist. I absolutely enjoy what I do, and the satisfaction it gives me.

For a time, practice life had got so busy I’d neglected my own health because I knew I had to deliver healthcare to others. After a busy day, all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap on my sofa and binge on junk foods. I definitely wasn’t sleeping anywhere near as well as I’d like with so many things keeping me up at night.

Below inflation NHS contract rises are making it harder for NHS/mixed practices to meet their business goals and stay in the black while keeping up with growing business expenses. It makes me sad when I feel like I can’t afford to take that extra ten minutes during my treatments. Physical and mental fatigue being the chief consequences.

At the start of my career, I was young, in decent enough shape and injury free. I felt immune from the plights affecting those approaching the end of their careers, vouching it wouldn’t happen to me. Ten years later, here I am, already experiencing the troubles of the physical toll the NHS can take out of you.

I play squash once or twice a week but this isn’t the same as it used to be after two difficult injuries (non-sports related) that have also had an impact on my career and will continue to do so. The time away from seeing patients has made me see that I could have done so much more for my own health.

Is this the kind of healthcare system we want to work in? One where if you’re not exhausted after a day in surgery you feel like you’ve not seen enough patients or earnt enough. Rushing around doesn’t feel healthy to me and I don’t feel it gives the right message to the patient if it looks like we’re flying through their treatment.

With the UDA raincloud always hovering, I worry about taking holiday and risking falling behind target. The reenergised feeling is short lived as you try to frantically catch up. It would be nice to take time off without fretting about the impending end of year deadline which usually results in working more hours, only adding to the anxiety levels. I know that the current respite will be over once NHS dentistry resumes.

Without the burnout and the feeling of impending litigation waiting to strike me at any moment, I’m feeling calmer. I definitely don’t regret training to become a dentist. I absolutely enjoy what I do, and the satisfaction it gives me.

When large organisations specifically employ well-being practitioners, have designated recharge areas and perform regular team building, there’s good reason for this. They want to get the best out of their staff. They know staff happiness leads to better business practice and performance.

Richard Branson said: ‘train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to’. This could never happen in the NHS with contracts to fulfil. To me, the NHS doesn’t incentivise or train us enough to want to stay in it for the long haul.

Now I’ve got the time, I’m certainly eating better, getting more sleep and feel as though I’ve got the energy to get my heart rate up. I’m worried that this will all crumble away once I’m back in the system of the UDA counter.

About Hussein Hassanali

Hussein graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2009 and is an NHS Associate Dentist in York. He has a broad range of experience having worked in both NHS and private, and both corporate and independent practices. He is working towards completing his PG Diploma in Restorative Dentistry and has a keen interest in preventative and minimally invasive dentistry. To date he has over twenty publications to his name and continues to support the profession through his regular contributions, as well as being on the BDJ Reader Panel and an Editorial Advisory Board Member of Young Dentist Magazine.

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