Working hard will only get you so far in general practice. For most of us, it’s our default response to pressure. If we need to hit targets or get our UDAs done, we fall back on the tried and tested strategy of just working harder. We do this because (confusingly) it’s easy. It doesn’t require any thought at all. Get your head down, try harder and work faster. To be fair to this technique, it can work on a quantitative level. If you work hard enough and providing that you aren’t doing one million UDAs, you will probably reach the objective. The problem is that working in this way is draining. It’s uninspiring, it’s monotonous and it will wear you down. Some people can keep this going for a while but no one can keep it up for a career. Fortunately, there is another way.
Don’t work harder. Work smarter.
This was the advice that my principal gave to me in my second week as an associate. I had been slogging my guts out, desperately trying to achieve a few measly UDAs but falling way short of what was required. It’s a big step up, working as a completely independent clinician and it obviously takes time to settle and learn the ropes. I was coping by working harder and harder but even that was not particularly fruitful.
My light bulb moment came when my principal sat me down and gave me that advice. ‘Don’t work harder. Work smarter.’
Give yourself time
There are many ways that you can work smarter. When considering the way you work, the key is finding solutions that benefit both you and your patients. You should be looking for those win-win situations; you make your life easier and your patients receive a higher standard of care.
The easiest and best way of working smarter is simply by slowing yourself down. Give yourself more time. In particular, give yourself more time to talk to your patients. If you have high targets to achieve, being busy is no excuse. In fact, the opposite is true. If you have lots of UDAs to get done, you must give yourself time to communicate with patients.
Time spent explaining to patients is always time well spent. If you give yourself the opportunity to describe your patient’s problems and the best solutions available, the patient makes informed choices and invariably, you end up providing more high value care. This means that the patient receives the treatment that is best for them and you are more productive, even though you’re doing less dentistry.
If you don’t take the time to discuss treatment options because you believe that you’re too busy, you will spend all day, every day, patching up teeth, providing compromised care as fast as you can and generally feeling harassed and demotivated.
I hope that makes sense but I thought I’d include a common example that many of us will encounter every day.
A patient is booked for a 20 minute emergency appointment. They have fractured a cusp off a heavily restored molar tooth. The tooth is vital and you consider it restorable.
If you’re in a rush or feeling stressed, the easiest thing to do is to patch the tooth up with a blob of composite or maybe an amalgam repair. You barely speak to the patient, repair their tooth and usher them out of the door.
But what happens if this tooth fractures again in future? You may be in a position where restoring this tooth is no longer possible. Even though you previously provided the quick, cheap and simple option, the patient is not going to thank you if they’re now faced with an extraction.
So let’s rewind to that emergency appointment. This time you give yourself the chance to have a discussion with the patient about the benefits of maybe an onlay compared to a patch up filling. The patient may see the benefit of covering the remaining cusps and select the high value treatment. You agree to get them back on another day to prepare the tooth and then fit the restoration a week later.
The fact that you gave yourself time to communicate with the patient means that everybody benefits. The patient receives the most appropriate care and you provide treatment without being in a rush.
Of course, patients may still prefer the simpler, cheaper treatment, even after you have taken the time to explain the pros and cons. But it’s important to note that, for the majority of patients, cost is not the number one issue. Most patients would prefer the best option rather than the cheapest.
The clock is ticking
It’s really simple. Just give yourself a bit more time. Think about what is the most appropriate treatment for the patient and then present it to them. Take time to explain why certain options may be more appropriate than others. Even if there’s something simple that you believe would be of benefit to the patient, explain it to them.
If you do this, you will find that the time you spend actually providing treatment will be much more productive and you will find it easier to deliver UDAs. As a consequence, you will be less stressed and generally happier at work. Your patients will select treatments that are most appropriate for them and, because they understand why this treatment is required, they will fully appreciate your care and skill.
To succeed in any profession, you must work intelligently. Being a dentist is tough so you certainly shouldn’t be working in a way that makes your life tougher still. Instead, you must look for ways to make your life easier. You must see the value in the care that you provide and you must take the time to communicate that value to your patients. If you don’t, I promise that you will come to resent the whole profession. In essence, you must work smarter.