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    Are you suffering from burnout?

    In a world of long hours and grueling work, it’s no surprise that many hygienists are experiencing stress and strain.

    It was a cause for celebration! My sister-in-law had gone into labor, and she was preparing to deliver the much-anticipated first grandchild of the family. The whole family gathered in the labor and delivery ward of our local hospital with butterflies in our stomachs and hearts prepared to welcome a new member to the family.

    What began as a beautiful day of anticipation, however, turned into a 36-hour delivery with immense stress, fear, panic and questions.

    About 18 hours into labor, our proud father-to-be, Danny, joined us in the waiting room to inform the family that Bailey’s contractions were subsiding, and she had spiked a fever. Despite receiving an Oxytocin drip to increase the contractions, Bailey’s body was beginning to show signs of distress. A nurse casually advised them “not to worry” as Bailey was placed on oxygen and given Tylenol.

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    I sat in the hospital waiting room watching Danny search WebMD for every reason why his wife and unborn child would be experiencing this distress while three nurses casually enjoyed coffee and girl chat at the nurses’ station.

    Is this how it’s supposed to be? An indifferent “not to worry” then coffee chat while the first-time parents in room 235 struggle to understand what’s happening on what should be the most beautiful day of their lives as parents?

    At what point would someone empathetically tell Danny what was going on? Or is WebMD now able to provide better, clearer and more timely answers than the three nurses behind the desk?

    Being the only family member who wears scrubs to work on a daily basis, I muttered the only thing I could in the moment: “I’m sure everything is fine. These nurses are highly trained for all scenarios during labor.” I soon ate those words when we found out that the “highly trained” nurses forgot to turn ON the Oxytocin drip. After more than 24 restless hours of munching ice chips, poor Bailey received her second epidural and a second “oops” from a forgetful nurse who just couldn’t seem to remember to turn ON the Oxytocin drip.

    Hygienist burnoutAfter what seemed like an eternity, Bailey’s OB-GYN presented, was shocked at the amount of stress she had endured and delivered, via C-Section, a gorgeous 7-pound and 3-ounce baby boy with a sweet dimple on his chin and a full head of hair.

    Were we all overjoyed to meet the baby? Yes. Were there tears of joy? Yes. (I’m still choking them down now as I write this.) Does this story have a beautifully happy ending? Yes. However, did the providers do all they could to provide empathetic and compassionate care while instilling trust in their patients? No.

    I’ll never forget the day during dental hygiene school when my dad called me with a question. “You see, Katrine, my doctor tells me I have high blood pressure and need to take a medication, what do you think?” At some point in my dad’s experience, he decided that the countless framed degrees and certifications on the walls at his physician’s office didn’t hold a candle to my expertise as a dental hygiene student of a few months who had just been cleared to use the wrist cuff in clinic.

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    Why did my dad trust a hungover dental hygiene student over a respected physician with years of experience? I’m confident that his physician made the right call in recommending antihypertensives for him; however, I wonder why my Baby Boomer father felt as though perhaps this recommendation wasn’t appropriate for his unique needs. Perhaps my dad didn’t fully understand high blood pressure, or perhaps he felt like he wasn’t being heard. Or, perhaps his physician just spent the better part of his week taking vital signs and prescribing the same medication to countless other noncompliant and sedentary patients with poor diets, smoking habits and a significant family history of chronic disease.

    I couldn’t help but wonder: Do dental patients experience this same level of disconnect from us? In dentistry, we chalk it up to “burnout,” a combination of feeling so mentally, physically and emotionally stressed that we begin to template our treatment planning verbiage, bite our tongues, pour that extra glass of wine at the end of the evening, or, in extreme cases, begin to explore careers in other industries.

    So, here’s the million-dollar question: Are we bringing these stressors upon ourselves? Moreover, are we burning ourselves out?

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    Katrina M. Sanders RDH, BSDH, M.Ed, RF
    Katrina M Sanders RDH, BSDH, M.Ed, RF, is a graduate and recipient of countless awards from the University of Minnesota’s School of ...


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