When a dentist is disabled from an injury or illness, it’s likely that they will experience denial and the emotions that it brings to life.  A disabled fireman will see a fire truck driving by and without thinking, will turn the corner and follow the firetruck to the fire. Why?  The fireman feels the need to be involved and remain a part of the life he left behind.  A similar scenario happens daily to disabled professionals in many careers. Dentists are not immune to this drama and maybe even have it worse.

Eventually the fireman will drive away,  thinking simultaneously why he followed the fire truck and what is he going to do now.   As a career healthcare provider, you have dedicated years of effort and made a significant financial investment in your future.  To suddenly realize that your life plan is altered significantly;  a sense of grief, loss, and confusion will hit you like a brick.

The key to survival is understanding that the emotions and stress that are tormenting you are transitory.  They will persist indefinitely, only if you give them permission to do so.  Time is relevant and no two individuals will take the same amount of time to reach a point when the road ahead clear.  We have gone down this path before, and aren’t surprised when we hear it will take a couple of years.  Don’t let this get you down, but being realistic is helpful.  You may never fully recover from your injury or illness, but you sure can adapt to it.  This means survival and those who understand this will make it.

Take some real-time to assess what you can do, not what you can’t do.  Use this assessment of yourself to outline your next steps.  A life altering event such as a disabling illness or injury does present you with a chance to alter your career direction.  Great success is born from having great opportunities.  Your illness/injury has given you an opportunity;   an opportunity to pursue fields you may never have considered before. Whatever your personal talent, interests, skills, or physical limitations;  make good decisions on your future.  You now have the time you never had before to really think through,  what your next career decision is going to be.  Experiment, test drive, dabble;  you have the luxury of time to try different alternatives. Others may want to commit immediately, but your situation will give you the time to make decisions that will best fit your limitations and condition. Look at your own personal rehabilitation and recovery first, then move on.  TEN STEPS TO SURVIVE DISABILITY

Look into your past and think sincerely what you vision yourself doing in the future. What are you good at?  What are you interested in?   What do you have fun doing?  What are you hobbies?   You may find that a field related to dentistry or healthcare is interesting.  Besides, you spent a number of years already in pursuit of a career there.  On the other hand, you may be interested in a field totally unrelated.  There are no rules and your physical limitations, finances, and family will likely weigh heavily on the decision-making process.

It’s likely that you will uncover an undiscovered talent you never knew you had.  You may find you really like teaching, selling, lecturing, or volunteering.  Maybe you always wanted to sell pizzas.  The sky is the limit and that is the exciting part that will help you overcome the depression of being injured or ill.   Many will drift towards academics, consulting, and sales.  These are totally viable options and should be considered.  Look to our past posts on career options for a taste of the numerous fields the are open to those with a dental degree.ALTERNATIVE CAREERS IN DENTAL EDUCATION  A doctorate opens doors that are closed to most others, and use your past experience to strengthen you future. We hope you can return to clinical dental practice in some capacity and also understand this is not aways possible.

To say this process is frustrating is an understatement. We mentioned that you have more time, but this time is not without end. Your final goal is to remain relevant and valued.  Even if you can practice dentistry only a few hours a day or if you cannot practice at all and now work as a teacher or consultant;  you are the only one who can determine your self-worth.  Strength comes from within and only you can gauge the amount of effort that will be necessary.  Even in 100% full retirement, remain a part of your community and contribute.

In the end, you need to understand the road to recovery after a severe illness or injury leads not to a destination but a new reality.  A reality that you must adapt to and this leads to survival and ultimately satisfaction. The final stage in the five stages of grief is acceptance.  You accept where you are, you accept what happened, and you accept what you must do now to move on and survive.  This is by far the hardest of the emotions that you will encounter, because it doesn’t end.  The denial, bargaining, anger, and fear will pass; but acceptance is a process.   Each and every day you will wake up and decide to accept your new reality.   It’s your choice and you will have the same decision tomorrow morning.   Just like the movie, Groundhog Day; each day will tend to repeat itself and you can break the cycle by remaining active.   Remain active by volunteering, teaching, helping others, working part-time;  you name it.  Maybe you always wanted to be a fireman.   If you physically can, go for it.   We will look for you when we dial 911.