Burnout in OMS: What to Look For, What to Do About It

September 29, 2023

Reading time: 5 minutes

Surgeon prepped for surgery looking burnt out and depressed.

In this article, oral and maxillofacial surgeons will learn how to recognize and manage the symptoms of burnout. Burnout can have significant consequences for an OMS and their patients, so learning about and identifying potential symptoms can help an OMS mitigate risk in their practice. This article recommends actions steps and includes resources for OMS burnout.

Key Concepts

  • How to recognize burnout as an OMS
  • How burnout can affect an OMS’s life and practice
  • What to do if you are an OMS experiencing burnout

Every day, you change lives with your expert surgical care. While it’s rewarding work, high-stakes surgical care, like oral and maxillofacial surgery, can be stressful and take a toll on you. Not only can it put a strain on your body, but also on your mind. After all, when constantly providing crucial surgical care, the pressure may at times feel insurmountable.

One common consequence of these strains is burnout. Though it’s a well-documented condition, many surgeons fail to recognize burnout or know how to effectively combat it. Let’s consider the signs of burnout and the steps you can take to avoid it throughout your surgical career.

Recognize the Signs of Burnout

Burnout has been described as “the accumulation of unchecked and built up stress over a period of time.” However, burnout and stress aren’t the same. Everyone experiences a stressful day or week from time to time, but typically, distancing oneself from stressors and focusing on something more enjoyable can mitigate stress in those contexts. Burnout on the other hand is cyclical; it’s the continual buildup of unmanaged stress that causes psychological and emotional exhaustion.

Do These Symptoms Sound Like You?

Burnout doesn’t just occur in patient-facing work. If you own your OMS practice, you might have to deal with additional stressors, such as managing staff, dealing with issues like insurance payouts, handling concerns over malpractice, growing your patient base, and all the other challenges that come with being a business owner. In recent years, the pandemic likely put a strain on your practice as well.

While you may not want to admit feeling the signs of professional burnout, chances are your loved ones are noticing them. It can be helpful (and even a relief) to be open and share what you’re experiencing. Think of it as the first step in the healing process. The signs of burnout may include:

  • Feeling emotionally exhausted at the end of the day
  • Being quick to anger when patients don’t follow your advice
  • Withdrawing from loved ones as a way of dealing with exhaustion
  • Feeling like work is a burden with no reward
  • Feeling like you want to escape and there’s no way out
  • Considering changing careers or quitting work altogether
  • Obsessing about industry prejudice against your profession

The Consequences of Burnout 

Due to the hands-on and high-stakes nature of oral and maxillofacial surgery, the consequences of burnout can affect not only you but also your patients. Left unresolved, burnout can lead to emotional distress, lack of motivation, anxiety, and depression. It can also lead to disengagement, negativity, and less successful outcomes in your work. For these reasons, it is important to learn how to recognize the signs and take the necessary steps to avoid and combat burnout.

According to an article from the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgey, “A recent cross-sectional study demonstrated that >50% of OMS residents reported moderate to severe anxiety, but no data are available for practicing oral and maxillofacial surgeons or OMS faculty.” Awareness of potential mental health risks, like burnout, in oral and maxillofacial surgery is vital, especially since there is little research about it. However, since oral and maxillofacial surgery is often considered a specialty within dentistry, it is important to note that practitioners in the dentistry field have repeatedly cited high levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout.

How to Avoid Burnout as an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

If you’ve experienced any signs of burnout, the first thing you can do is focus on your emotional and physical healing. Burnout among surgeons is real and mustn’t be brushed off. Psychologists suggest beginning with rebuilding and maintaining a foundation of basic healthy behaviors including:

  1. A nutritious diet and good hydration
  2. Adequate sleep and limited screen time
  3. Time for fun with family and friends
  4. Time to relax and free your mind

Once your foundation is strong, consider these strategies to help you avoid burnout:

  • Thought exercises: Ask yourself questions like “what do I want, what don’t I want, and what needs to change?” without worrying about the life and career expectations you’ve set for yourself. Write down your answers and/or explore with a loved one.
  • Anger management: Talk honestly about what “gets to you” and why. Letting go of pent-up feelings instead of holding them in might help you better understand your emotions and how to regulate them.
  • Transparency: Don’t be ashamed to express your feelings, fears, and dreams to your loved ones. They want to listen and support you.
  • Seeking Professional Help: It’s never a sign of weakness to seek the help of a counselor or mental health professional. Talking to an unbiased third-party can help you gain the clarity and direction you need to overcome burnout and move forward.

An important aspect of any job, especially in a healthcare profession, is work-life balance. Make time to explore your hobbies, spend time with your loved ones, and properly rest outside of work. Work-life balance is crucial not only for your mental and physical health, but also for stability and longevity in your dental career.

By taking time to focus on your own well-being, you’ll better serve your patients and yourself. The burnout healing process might even embolden you to rediscover the reasons you chose your profession in the first place and give you a fresh perspective on your work.

Get the Practice Protection You Need

We hope you’ll give these burnout tips for oral and maxillofacial surgeons a try.

Ready to act against burnout and stress in your OMS career? Begin by securing the very best malpractice insurance to protect yourself from the strain of claims. Reach out to our team here at MedPro Group to review policies and discuss risk management strategies that can help you practice with more confidence.

Additional Risk Tips content

Risk Tips

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons often face unhappy patients. In this case study, a patient who receives dermal fillers later files a Board complaint.

Risk Tips

In oral surgery, documentation is an essential element of practice. In this case study, the lack of detail in an OMS’s chart entry impacts the outcome of a malpractice case against her.

Risk Tips

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons must strictly adhere to state guidelines about records retention. In this case study, an OMS practicing in two neighboring states neglects to maintain records for the required duration in the state in which he is sued, affecting the legal outcome.

This document does not constitute legal or medical advice and should not be construed as rules or establishing a standard of care. Because the facts applicable to your situation may vary, or the laws applicable in your jurisdiction may differ, please contact your attorney or other professional advisors if you have any questions related to your legal or medical obligations or rights, state or federal laws, contract interpretation, or other legal questions.

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