4 reminders to achieve personal and professional balance as a doctor

5 min readMay 23, 2023

Doctor, entrepreneur, practice owner — your dreams have become your reality. You worked hard to get here, and you’re working hard to maintain and grow what you have.

As a healthcare provider, you owe it to yourself (first and foremost), your patients, and your team to find personal and professional balance while supporting your own mental health. Maybe you’re struggling with burnout and finding the right balance, or maybe you feel like you have it all figured out. Either way, tomorrow needs you. So, in honor of Mental Health Month, we’re sharing four reminders from Dr. Amrita R. Patel to help protect your mental health.

1: You can’t pour from an empty cup.

As a doctor, you have a responsibility to take care of yourself so you can care for others. “Others” isn’t limited to just your patients; it can mean your staff, partner, kids, extended family, fur babies, and all the people in your life you care about. Are you making time to care for yourself first, so you can care for those you love?

Finding peace and harmony looks different for everyone. You may have read that unplugging from devices is the cure for finding harmony, but is that what works for you? Maybe watching TV is cathartic (who doesn’t find joy in Jersey Shore reruns?), or FaceTiming with a family member on a different continent brings you joy. Perhaps you do need to unplug and run a 10K or go for a walk outside every morning, but maybe you don’t. You need to find what self-care looks like to you.

If you need help figuring out what fills your cup, Harvard Health Publishing has great insight on how nurturing yourself in small ways can ease burnout and exhaustion.

2: Never stop learning, and pay it forward when you can.

Whether you’re a student, a new graduate, or have owned your practice for 50 years, never stop learning.

Maintaining an “always be teachable” mindset starts by acknowledging that there are things you don’t know (and that’s okay) and by making learning a priority. Many states allow you to fulfill most of your continuing education requirements online, which means you can access training without needing to take time away from residency, family, or private practice. Or, if you want a change of scenery, you can take advantage of continuing education events that require travel. These are great opportunities to reconnect with old friends and even make new ones. You can even bookend educational trips with a personal vacation (highly recommended, btw).

The power of mentorship cannot be understated (especially when you think, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’). Past experiences allow mentors to see things in different ways, so they’re able to offer you a new perspective. Mentors don’t need to be other dentists or veterinarians; they can be other industry professionals, family members, faculty, fitness and wellness instructors, childhood teachers, and friends. Anyone in your life who inspires you can be a mentor. By surrounding yourself with different and unique perspectives, you’ll have an entire team of people advising you along your journey.

As you learn and grow, pay it forward, and share the knowledge you’ve gained with others. Make training your team a priority, and bring them along to create a shared vision that helps you scale. Be a resource for young professionals in the industry as they grow and develop. By being a mentor, you can help preserve the independence of dentistry for future generations and improve the industry’s standard of care.

3: Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. (Like a boss.)

Just like finding harmony, managing time looks different for everyone. As you grow in your career, you need to check in with yourself and find time management strategies that work for you. Delegating not only saves time and helps prevent burnout; it also helps you and your team develop as professionals, prepares you to manage larger teams, and inspires your team members to perform better. (If you’re not familiar with Molly Graham’s ‘Give Away Your Legos,’ read this.)

You can also try “Dr. Patel’s Way” to identify areas where you can delegate.

  • Fold an 8-by-11-inch piece of paper in half longways.
  • On the left side, write down everything you’re doing currently (personally and professionally), from small tasks like laundry to big things like needing to change the office fee schedules.
  • On the right side of the paper, write down everyone or everything (as in a person, group, or service) that could be doing that task more effectively or efficiently than you.
  • Start delegating!

4: Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

For doctors (especially you, dentists!) who are constantly focused on details and looking inward, it can be difficult to shift your perspective outward and see where you’re going. You’re on an amazing journey; it’s important to balance enjoying the ride with setting goals for yourself.

Maybe you’re just starting out and want a full schedule. You want your patients to be happy and have the best care. It’s really easy to get on that hamster wheel and never get off. All of a sudden, 10, 15, 20, and 30 years have gone by. Are you happy? Did you follow your plan? Make time to slow down and intentionally check on your personal and professional goals.

  • What is my long-term goal? Why? Is what I wanted five years ago what I want right now?
  • What am I doing to work toward growing my business?
  • How can I be more intentional about getting where I want to go?

Bonus reminder: Talk to a professional.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help (this is not a weakness). Being vulnerable and getting help for yourself is a sign of strength. Speaking with a mental health professional will make you stronger, help you find your own peace, and be who you are, unapologetically.

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Dr. Patel knows a thing or two about finding success and peace as a practice owner. She owns multiple specialty group practices in New York City and has served as the new dentist member of the American Dental Association (ADA) Council on Dental Benefit Plans and the New York State Dental Association’s Council on Ethics. She’s an ADA Success Speaker, an American Association for Women Dentists member, a New York University College of Dentistry Alumni Association board member, and a 2021 ADA 10 Under 10 Award recipient.

Dr. Patel recently joined our podcast, The Path to Owning It, to share her reminders for how new dentists can achieve personal and professional balance. For examples of how she puts these reminders into practice in her own life, stream the episode.

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