Thursday, January 12, 2017

Vacations: Distant Childhood Memories

Last year, a good friend of mine confessed she had a dilemma: She was trying to figure out where to spend her remaining two weeks of vacation for the year. Wait … what? Remaining?! I asked how many weeks of vacation she had started with, and she casually replied, “Five.” At first, I was stunned. Then, I was jealous. Now, mind you, she has degrees in chemical and mechanical engineering and works for a top pharmaceutical company where important drugs are being developed to combat big diseases. But she doesn’t work on the weekends and doesn’t stay past 5 or 6 p.m. during any typical workday. And did I mention the five-week vacation?

I’m aware of how notorious Americans are for leaving unused vacation on the table, and recent research confirmed that we don’t seem to be thrilled about taking time off. In fact, we seem to applaud the all-work-and-no-play mindset. When I took my rare two-week vacation two years ago (after not taking any more than five days for several years), I received many astonished reactions. True, it’s about economics for many. But imagine if we were able to train our psyches to take a few days off in the midst of a long work streak. I would argue we would have more productive days following those days off, not to mention a more positive work atmosphere and better focus. In other words, we might actually reduce burnout and do our backs and hands a favor.

However, do those things really matter to us when we have packed schedules and can’t even afford to have our assistants call in sick because they have the flu, let alone a quick getaway? Besides, I wonder if my friend can empathize with dental practice owners or dentists with a solid patient base. Maybe she wouldn’t understand that even if we have a backup dentist to take care of our patients when we’re gone, we still keep those patients in the back of our minds regardless of how far away we travel. When I was staring at the Pacific Ocean during my holiday, I’ll admit I had thoughts of a bridge I had just delivered or a surgery I might have done before I left. “I hope the patient’s bite feels good and my stitches are intact …”

Besides, each day away from the office is a loss for the dental business. Practice owners can’t simply unplug from the office mentally and financially, as my friend in the drug industry may be able to.

As the holiday season came and went, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work as dental insurance benefits came to a close, while my dear friend browsed the travel section at the bookstore to plan her final fortnight of adventure for 2016. Lucky gal. 

Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD

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