The Diamond Dentist: Overcoming key pressure points for a new dentist (Part 2)

Part 2: Professional and Social Pressure

In the final part of this series on identifying and overcoming the pressures of being a new dentist, we examine the phenomenon of imposter syndrome in dentistry and discuss strategies for navigating social pressures that young professionals face.

Becoming a dentist is hard. The pressure to succeed starts long before the first day of dental school and, for many in the profession, lasts their entire career. Pressure can create diamonds over time, but it can make daily life difficult. Understanding where pressure comes from – and developing strategies for coping with and overcoming it – is key to career success and long-term satisfaction. While new dentists face many challenges, they also have access to resources to support their journey – from student to practice and beyond.

Imposter syndrome in dentistry

Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern of fear and self-doubt that interferes with a person’s belief in their own accomplishments and burdens them with the persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud — despite evidence of their abilities1. This phenomenon can apply to dentists, just as it can to professionals in various fields, and can lead to feelings of inadequacy, the fear of failure, and constant self-criticism. This additional psychological stress can increase pressure to meet expectations of being a dental professional.

Research by the American Dental Association suggests that new dentists could be more susceptible to those feelings than older, more experienced dentists, as they face new situations and possibly doubt their abilities, especially when they are placed in a new setting or performing a new procedure2.” This phenomenon is not unique to dentists, but the expectations patients and colleagues have for them in a clinical situation can be overwhelming, particularly in the early years.

For those feeling imposter syndrome, it is important to acknowledge those feelings and to act. A common first step could be to seek guidance from experienced colleagues or mentors in the profession who can provide support and perspective. Chances are some of them have experienced similar feelings. Taking part in professional groups or associations like the New Dentists’ Study Club (NDSC) – which focuses on skill acquisition, knowledge sharing, and the creation of a social bond by communing with peers – can help alleviate the sense of isolation.

Therapy or counseling is also an option to help work through feelings of impostor syndrome and its underlying causes. The Members’ Assistance Program is a confidential resource that provides easy access to support resources to help manage life’s many challenges. It is provided by TELUS Health and sponsored by CDSPI so that dental students, dentists, dental staff, and their families have access to help 24/7 at no cost.

Overall, it is important to have a realistic outlook about professional expectations. That can mean working at a high standard while accepting that occasional mistakes are a part of professional growth. It can also mean treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a patient. Celebrate your achievements and learn from your challenges.

The role of insurance in relieving pressure

Practicing dentists wear many hats. In addition to their core clinical responsibilities of treating patients, dentists are also businesspeople – whether as a practice owner or an associate. Relief from the pressure of running the business side of a practice can come from many places. Foremost is the contribution of a great team, including staff, suppliers, and professional services. But even with a great team in place, it is important to account for the external factors that can impact the financial viability of a practice. One of the most indispensable of these relief valves is insurance.

“Practice protection insurance, like CDSPI TripleGuard™ Insurance is key for both practice owners and associates,” according to Julie Berthiaume, Senior Insurance Advisor. “Although associates may not own much in the office, as self-employed individuals, they still need their own insurance to protect their income if they are unable to work. For a practicing dentist, practice protection insurance helps relieve the pressure of potentially devastating risks: damage or loss of equipment, practice interruption, and commercial general liability.”

“Transferring these risks to an insurance company just makes sense,” Julie believes. “What if your practice is inaccessible because the mall’s sprinkler system malfunctioned and left the office with a foot of water on the floor? We’ve all seen the catastrophic effects of devastating floods and fires in recent years. It can be stressful thinking about how something like that could seriously impact your ability to earn a living. Having an insurance solution in place can go a long way to helping relieve that kind of pressure.”

Another key pressure point for any healthcare profession is the threat of malpractice action. No matter how carefully dentists care for their patients, incidents happen, and a malpractice accusation could be the result. Malpractice insurance is essential protection to help defend dentists. That’s because, even if unfounded, accusations of malpractice can have significant financial consequences and may lead to reputational damage for dentists.

Four high-impact practices to help avoid malpractice accusations:

  1. Take necessary precautions.
  2. Explain procedures clearly.
  3. Show compassion.
  4. Maintain accurate records.

For more on the ins and outs of malpractice insurance, check out this recent feature with an extended interview with Julie Berthiaume.

Julie stresses the need for dentists who could face these kinds of accusations to learn strategies to reduce their risk factors. “Legal fees can accumulate rapidly and become a heavy burden on their financial well-being,” she explains. “Having enough malpractice insurance coverage, which may mean having more than the minimum provincial requirement, can help to ease that burden.”

Social pressure doesn’t end after high school

As we discussed last time, many of the new dentists our advisors meet report feeling pressured by friends and family to engage in what they consider excessive spending, such as going out for dinners, taking luxury vacations, and buying expensive items. Those types of lifestyle choices often conflict with their priorities for their long-term financial goals and personal values.

Julie Berthiaume, CAIB

Bilingual Senior Insurance Advisor

Having open and honest conversations with friends and family about their financial priorities is key. “It is important to make it clear that supporting causes, both financially and with their free time, is something that matters to them greatly,” Julie Berthiaume believes. “I suggest they spend time with loved ones doing things that are both fulfilling and budget-friendly. It can preserve their resources to invest in experiences and products that reflect their personal values like climate change or social justice.”

Sticking to a comprehensive financial plan with short-term and long-term goals that focuses on these priorities – and aligns with their personal values – can be an effective strategy for managing social and lifestyle pressures.

Emerging from pressure as the “Diamond Dentist”

Pressure can be a weighty burden, but it can also be a crucible that forges something strong and beautiful. There is no question that new dentists are put under a lot of pressure in their lives and face many challenges, including financial pressures, impostor syndrome, and social expectations. The secret to emerging from pressure as a “Diamond Dentist” is devising and following strategies that set boundaries, prioritize financial wellness, and align spending with personal values.

Dentists with clear financial plans and a support structure to help manage financial, professional, and social pressures, can navigate today’s reality while positioning themselves to help solve tomorrow’s greatest challenges.

Read: Part 1 - Debt and Expectations

1 Health care leadership in action: Overcoming impostor syndrome, 2020.

2 What is 'imposter syndrome,' and how do you overcome it? 2023.

TripleGuard™ Insurance is underwritten by Zurich Insurance Company Ltd. (Canadian Branch). A full description of coverage and eligibility, including exclusions, restrictions and limitations can be found in the Policy Terms and Conditions governing the plan.