There can be no denying that dentistry is a skill intensive profession, which requires attention to detail, patience and consistent focus. Unfortunately, maintaining this, particularly a good level of focus, can often be difficult – after all, we’ve only got a finite amount of time and energy and there is always something to distract us.
I think we also tend to focus on the wrong things. As dentists, it’s easy for us to zone in on a single tooth and, during treatment, this can sometimes be the only thing we see. Indeed, we can become so absorbed in the clinical aspect of our work that we forget there is a person attached to the tooth! As an endodontist, I feel this quite strongly – when I’m staring through my microscope, I can become so engrossed in the canal that the rest of the patient becomes an afterthought. When this happens we can actually forget to ask the right questions.
After all, our primary concern is the care of our patients – and we need to always have them at the forefront of our focus. We may be able to perform some excellent dentistry on that tooth, but we always need to be mindful of what our patients want and what will make them happiest. This may mean we do not proceed with the very best dental treatment – but with whatever is best for the individual patient.
This shift in focus is important to our role as caregivers – we need to realise that our job is not always to display our clinical skill on every case, but to help people and make a positive impact on their lives.
Yet, this always comes hand in hand with our fear of failure. As a profession, we are too focused on what will happen if a case doesn’t go the way we planned it. We’re frightened. Not only because we undertake work that regularly affects wellbeing and the quality of life of our patients, but because we are all too aware of the impact it might have on our professional integrity. Indeed, litigation against dentists is increasing every year and this is creating a climate of fear that we simply cannot help but become enthralled by.
Of course, working hard to avoid failures in the surgery is important – but the failures themselves cannot be disregarded. They, too, are a helpful tool when it comes to developing as practitioners. So, instead of focusing on the fallout of our failures, we should always be thinking about how we could learn from those mistakes. If we don’t, we will simply become too terrified to ever improve.
Alongside this, we should always remember to focus on our successes. Success, after all, is incredibly life affirming and will improve morale beyond measure. There is nothing wrong with being proud of a successful case – because a successful case will have changed someone’s life for the better.
It is also typical for us to focus too much on the short term. This is most evident with marketing, where we have the tendency to try to perfect our marketing strategy before we’ve perfected the product we’re trying to market. This is particularly true with internet marketing. People are very focused on SEO – how they meet people and get their names out to a wide audience – when they should be focussing on the content, or the message they are trying to convey.
It’s also true that, these days, we’ve become more easily distracted. In dentistry, there are hundreds of day to day things that just get in the way of what should be our main focus: helping people. We have to deal our cash flows, compliance, costs and HR – we’re also all connected to our phones and our emails, making it too easy for our attention to be interrupted.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that one of the main things that will impact our ability to focus on the important things is fatigue. With so much to do, so many tasks to complete in a single day, we can become burnt out incredibly quickly if we aren’t careful. And it’s at this point that mistakes are made and results are compromised.
As such, we should always be mindful of what we are focussing on – whether it’s really a priority or whether it’s really a priority or whether it’s just one of modern life’s distractions. At the end of the day, our job is to provide a healthcare service to our patients, and that should always be our main focus. If we maintain that and control it, we can’t go far wrong.
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