Prioritizing passion projects to battle burnout

Research: Dr. Erinne Kennedy presents a poster on burnout among dental school faculty at the 2019 American Dental Education Association Annual Session and Exhibition. 

For Dr. Erinne Kennedy, part of avoiding burnout has been learning to say no.


In dental school, the self-described “go-getter” found herself divided among multiple commitments, wondering if she was making as much of an impact as she could be. She decided to cut back on her involvement to focus on a core of activities that truly ignited her passion.

“For me, I have started saying yes to career projects that bring me joy,” said Dr. Kennedy, who earned her dental degree and a master’s degree in public health from Nova Southeastern University in 2015 and a master’s degree of medical sciences in dental education from Harvard University in 2019. “Specifically, teaching dental public health is something that I love, and I am doing more of. Second, I learned to develop healthy habits by observing my most successful mentors, who had a community outside their career and hobbies that not only brought them joy but ones that they prioritized regularly.”

A study published in June 2017 in the Journal of Patient Safety found younger dentists, aged 34-44 years old, had higher levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization than more seasoned dentists, aged 65-85 years old, said Dr. Kennedy, adding the prevalence of burnout among younger dentists could be because of avariety of challenges, including practicing at multiple offices as associates.

Dr. Kennedy, who is the director of pre-doctoral education at the Kansas City University College of Dental Medicine, has spoken about burnout and work-life balance as an ADA Success speaker, on the ADA’s Beyond the Mouth podcast and with student groups such as igniteDDS and the American Student Dental Association.

She encourages new dentists to battle burnout by finding mentors who help build resilience in them and doing what they love.

“Research shows that when health care professionals spend more than 20% of their time on their most meaningful career-related activity, they are at less risk for becoming burned out,” Dr. Kennedy said. “I hope you take a few moments to reflect on how you can do more of what you love every day.”

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