A young dentist (let’s appropriately call him Dr Young ) recently asked to speak to me. He was clearly anxious as he opened an envelope to show me that he had been served with a lawsuit relating to a procedure he had performed a year ago. The details are unimportant here; suffice it to say that from my cursory review of the papers, I am 100% confident that the attorneys for his malpractice carrier will manage the case well with minimal, if any, tangible impact on him.
My concern is for the very promising career of an outstanding young dentist who is also a dedicated public servant. You see, Dr Young is seeing his career coming to a rapid end, envisioning a modern-day tar-and-feathering by his state’s Board of Dentistry. He is also questioning his ability to do anything and is reluctant to do procedures like the one he did in the case we are discussing. Our President would call Dr Young’s mindset fake news. I call it a false narrative.
The recipient of a legal summons is rightfully not happy and Dr Young’s short-term anxiety is not unreasonable. But disgruntled patients and bad outcomes from procedures done well, from the goodness of our hearts, happen every day. We need to not only put it all into perspective, but we also need to grow from them. Here are a few things Dr Young and I discussed.
- Never work on a stranger was one of Dr Pankey’s famous sound bites. When we establish a connection as one caring human being with another, outcomes seem to always be better. And even when things go awry, as they occasionally do, fixing the problems is much easier when doctor and patient have a rock solid trust in one another
- You will be imperfect 100% of the time despite your best efforts. That is not to say that open margins, periodontal neglect, or gross occlusal discrepancies are to be passively neglected. The point is that we can always find something to improve in our work. That is not a failure; it is a learning experience. We cannot beat ourselves over the head if a procedure of ours isn’t beyond critique, a disgruntled patient leaves our practice or files a complaint, or even if our cash flow is not what the so-called experts tell us it should be. We can only use these experiences as vehicles for self-improvement.
- Show me a person without stress and I’ll show you a cadaver is one of my signature lines. Dentistry is stressful. So is anything else we do! We cannot let our problems define us. We need to know that we are capable to rising to the challenges we face Dr Brenee Brown talks about this in her wonderful book, Rising Strong.
- Work is important, but there is far more to life. A bad day at work does not mean that you are any less worthy a human being or any less loved and respected by those who know you.
- Most importantly- 98% of things we fear never materialize. The great motivational speaker, Earl Nightingale, told us this in his classic book, Lead the Field. A complaint, a disgruntled patient, or even a lawsuit will make you feel awful but will very likely not destroy your career or life.
Remember that the Constitution of the United States guarantees us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That means that no one- not even you- is allowed to make you miserable. Don’t allow it.
I would love to see some feedback on this from the group. Any thoughts? How do YOU handle adversity?