One in four of us will end up disabled during our working careers. This disability may be short or long term. The prospect of not working for most dentists is a very difficult challenge both economically and personally. Correct management of the challenges and obstacles that a sudden disability present is key.
Emotion and anxiety often dictate the poor decisions made following realization that one cannot practice. As health care providers, we have dedicated a significant portion of our lives to achieve our current position of trust and responsibility. It is often too easy just to give up versus attempting to continue on with our careers. Of course, do we really know if we will be out of work for 6 weeks, 6 months, or even 6 years? Does it really matter and what are the consequences?
Successful and logical management of a disabling event are fully within your capability. Even if your preparation for the illness or accident was marginal, you can take action today to prevent personal financial loss and take control of the situation. Take time to evaluate the situation. Any practice can tolerate a few weeks of inactivity, and your initial actions could have serious consequences if made in haste. Make good decisions.
First you must face the facts and understand what is real. Understand that everyone has a “date with disaster” and you are more than just a statistic. Emotions are facts too and be prepared for a loss of control. Your first enemy is DENIAL. Understanding that it’s there; whether you like it or not, it also must be faced. It’s OK to be afraid and anxiety will be your constant companion. It’s fine to be angry, -use it as motivation to fight back. “Bad things don’t happen to you, they happen for you”. That’s easy for us to say now, but your perspective on the situation will determine the next steps you take.
Self-pity is the enemy of everyone who becomes disabled. You must confront it just like you did when you faced the facts of your new reality. Understanding that depression, frustration, guilt, and helplessness are all forms of the same foe. As a dentist you have won countless battles over your career. In school, college, and practice you have succeeded by perseverance and belief in yourself. You have the inner strength to win and only need to call on your past success for inspiration for this next phase of your life.
Choose to be a winner. You need to make a conscious decision that you will not be broken no matter the situation. Escape the trap of being though of as a victim. Others will say they are sorry for what happened to you, but in reality you feel they should be congratulating you for your survival and asking what is your plan. Have a sense of humor and get a better perspective on where you really are.
No one survives on they own. Reach out to your family/spouse for strength. You don’t need to ask for help directly, just show up and it will come. As George Carlin once said; “Why would you read a book about self-help written by someone else, that’s not self-help it’s help!”. Your faith is paramount and a rock to lean on. Where else do you go for help? We once thought less of support groups, but now are true believers. SEEK OUT YOUR PEERS NOW. Especially of they have been disabled too. Who better to talk with a disabled dentist than another dentist. We have found this is the strongest medicine available to get you moving and ready for a successful recovery.
Take decisive actions to preserve your practice. Be prepared to resume practice with short notice and also understand you might be disabled for a lengthy period of time. Take care of yourself. You are now the patient and need to follow orders and take your prescriptions as directed. We will follow soon with detailed plans to assist you in practice transition back to work or movement to a new alternative career.
Becoming disabled, even if you have to leave practice , doesn’t mean you’re no longer a dentist. The ADA offers a Dues Waiver Form for continued membership to eligible dentists. Completed forms go first to the local dental society for review and approval. Approved applications are sent to the state society. The state society then sends it for final processing by the ADA. Information on how to apply is available from your state association. Or you may obtain the Dues Waiver Form online needed by your local society to determine your eligibility.
Your malpractice carrier may also have temporary suspension clauses in your contract with them. If it is available, you may request a temporary suspension sometimes for over 2 years. By doing this, you may be able to save on your premiums and also have a reasonable chance to get a refund. If there is a chance that you may resume practice in the future, this is a recommended option. Check your policy and or contact your malpractice company directly. Remember, time is money and there is no penalty for being timely.