Escaping the Cult of Dentistry
With another Thanksgiving and the 1-year anniversary of my split with dentistry behind me, I am once again reminded of my gratitude for being able to break free from something that had me feeling so trapped for so long. Apparently feeling stuck in a job or career is pretty common among us. (I know, duh.) A while back I received this email from a fellow dentist, and I’m finally ready to give my 2 cents.
It was a breath of fresh air to read “10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too”! As a dentist of 12 years, I could relate to your article. As a fellow colleague, I commend you for having the guts to put that out in the public – it was a huge risk – but as you said in your posting today, you had many dentists supporting you and thankful for the stress reliever. For some unknown reason, as dentists we do not feel like we are allowed to say ANYTHING about our patients. They can tell us things to our face like, “I just put your kids through college with this mouth”, and we just have to eke out a forced laugh while biting the insides of our lips. You managed to give us a voice – humorously, relatable and tastefully. I am looking forward to reading about your career change. Again, another topic that dentists are afraid to discuss. Do you think it is looked down upon to leave dentistry? What professions CAN people leave and it is not seen as a weakness or that the person is a failure because they do not enjoy it? Who knows…you might be a pioneer in dentistry – not for a miracle bonding agent, but for breaking through the walls of our “silence”. Thank you and good luck!
I’ve thought a lot about this over the year, and as I sit down to answer this, I’m torn. Initially my answer is YES. I think it’s seen as weak by many to leave dentistry, especially within the dental community. In fact, a few months ago I found myself being cyber-bullied on a popular dental website forum. Okay, they weren’t really bullying me, but they were still being kind of douchey. I know, you’re probably wondering why anyone would be a dickhead to little ol’ me, right? Well, apparently, comparing dentistry to a cult is a VERY TERRIBLE thing to do (ahem, which is exactly why I chose that for the title of this post.)
It all started because I was commenting on this particular forum titled, “Man, I hate dentistry.” I responded to someone who had asked me how I got out of the career. In my closing comment I said:
“Good luck to all of you who want out. Getting out of dentistry is like getting out of a cult.”
Man, you would have thought I had made a sacrilegious movie about a sacred dental prophet or something. That one statement alone got me some pompous responses from some very classy dentistry-loving dentists. Instead of trying to understand what I meant by one silly statement, these “gentlemen” decided to grace me with a few personal attacks. The Word Police not only chided me for using a “poor choice of words,” but their responses had nothing to do with the actual topic. Instead these strangers tried to belittle my life choices and my lifestyle– all while staunchly defending how much they love dentistry with an air of superiority because they work damn hard! I got to see firsthand that some are pretty smug and even defensive about how great dentistry is.
So here I was, speaking out about how happy I was with my decision to leave dentistry, only to be silenced by these dentistry-loving bullies. Why were they so angry and insulted by this? What were they trying to protect? And furthermore, tell me why some dentistry-loving dentists would be trolling on a site titled, “Man, I hate Dentistry”? Were they trying to convince the poor souls looking for a way out that they should like it and stay? I don’t know, sounds pretty cult-like to me.
And yes, getting out of dentistry was like getting out of a cult. There, I said it again.
Do I really need to explain that analogy?
While this angry reaction of these dentists seems extreme, it’s indicative of the attitude some dentists have. However, most are much more polite about it when they can’t hide behind their computer, and they have to react to you face-to-face.
I’ll never fully understand why our colleagues seem to judge such a decision. Does it make them feel rejected, or does it stem from a need to want to control another person? Maybe it’s a protective measure? Were they concerned for me and worried I was making a mistake? There were times when I wished that my fellow dentists were a little less judgmental about my decision to leave dentistry.
And then I experienced something that changed my mind about all of this.
A few days after I wrote 10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too, I went to a dental study club dinner. Sometimes I hate these events because they often breed the normal stupid, superficial conversation we all have with other dental geeks: where is your practice? How long have you practiced? How big is your office? Blah, blah, blah… all followed by awkward silences when we’ve run out of dental small talk that neither of us really care about. This night, though, was different. A dentist had walked in with a printed copy of my post, and he was excitedly showing it to all of the dentists in the room. One dentist who knew I had just quit practicing days earlier handed it to me, and said, “you’ve got to read this. You’re going to love it.” I smiled and said, “I wrote that.” That moment changed everything. When they realized that I was celebrating my early retirement (with what seemed like loads of confidence backing my decision,) suddenly the energy shifted. For the first time the conversation became very real. I was surprised to discover that several other people were working with the main goal to get out as soon as they could. We suddenly not only shared honest conversations about how we truly felt about our careers, but we also found other things we actually loved and enjoyed discussing. When I stopped pretending, it allowed me and those around me to be real. And this is when I realized that leaving dentistry doesn’t have to be looked down upon. It’s what we make of it.
With that, I modify my initial answer. When push comes to shove, no one really cares what you do. The judgmental, smug dentists that do care are like our patients: most are wonderful, but 1 or 2 are not. Somehow, these are the ones that get under our skin and make the most noise. But they’re not in the majority. The majority are supportive and actually find leaving the career courageous because it is so hard to do. Is it as difficult to leave any other career? I think so. Change is hard, and it must be hard to leave any career.
The fear that we will be a disgrace for leaving this career, while very real and very valid, is only another roadblock that we create for ourselves.
Now I ask you the same questions that were asked of me: Is it looked down upon to leave dentistry? What professions CAN people leave and it is not seen as a weakness or that the person is a failure because they do not enjoy it?