Female dentists face a huge amount of stress in the workplace. Dr Fern White, founder of Practice Your Passion, believes the best investment they can make is in themselves. By Frank Leggett
From the moment she graduated at the age of 22, Dr Fern White believed that success and freedom in dentistry meant one thing: owning her own business. That dream became a reality in 2009 when she purchased Beacon Cove Dental from its retiring owner.
The practice was well situated in Port Melbourne in Victoria and had a sizeable client base, but it had become stagnant. Dr White was consistently working six days a week with patients just to keep the business afloat. The seventh day was reserved for working on the business.
While this should have been a satisfying and happy time for Dr White, nothing could be further from the truth. Six months after purchasing the practice she was overworked and constantly stressed from the challenges of running a business.
Despite 10 years of yoga, she was in physical pain from the repetitive posturing required of dentists. It was so bad she was having cortisone injections in her shoulder just to keep working. Dr White wasn’t eating properly, had a huge staff turnover and her relationships were breaking down.
In addition to this, financial worries were stopping her sleeping and she was constantly anxious. Matters came to a tipping point when the husband of a staff member she had retrenched called and abused her over the phone. Dr White had a full-blown panic attack and spent the next two hours lying on the floor shaking.
“I remember thinking I was literally going to die,” recalls Dr White. “Instead, I managed to get myself back under control and decided a radical change was in order.”
Journey of a refugee
Vietnamese-born Dr White first arrived in Australia as a two-year-old refugee. “I came with my parents after the Vietnam war and the fall of Saigon,” she recalls. “My dad orchestrated an escape by boat for about 70 people, most of them family. We arrived in a Malaysian refugee camp and waited there for 10 months before approval for asylum was granted by the Australian government.”
These days Dr White is involved in advocating for asylum seekers. Along with other dentists, she supplies the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre with all their dental supplies and advice. She also appears in the ‘I Came By Boat’ website (icamebyboat.com.au) that celebrates the contribution refugees have made to Australia.
“My parents insisted on a heavy sense of discipline and strict study,” recalls Dr White. “They were determined for me to be someone in this world because they didn’t have that chance as refugees. This is a very common situation among migrant families.”
Her parents ensured that all six of their kids went to university and earned a degree. Among her siblings are an optometrist, another dentist, a physio, a shares analyst and a successful entrepreneur.
It is fair to say that when her life as a dentist and business owner started turning sour, there was also the added pressure of family expectations. At her lowest point and recovering from a panic attack, Dr White had a revelation.
“I realised that I couldn’t change anyone else—the only person I could change was myself,” she says. “I was the most valuable asset at the heart of my business and I needed to invest in myself. It was obvious, really.”
For the next seven years, Dr White immersed herself in personal development with several coaches. She undertook courses from all around the world and employed a famous mentor from the US. She studied under accomplished female embodiment teachers and learnt to lead as an empowered female leader—from the heart.
“I realised that I couldn’t change anyone else—the only person I could change was myself. I was the most valuable asset at the heart of my business and I needed to invest in myself. It was obvious, really.”—Dr Fern White
As a result, her life changed.
She led her staff differently at work and put new strategies and systems in place. Her relationships and the culture at work changed in line with her new set of values and principles.
A few years later she had her first child and reduced her work days down to two a week. Despite this, her practice almost doubled its profits compared to when she was slaving away for six days a week.
She also became involved with different women’s groups and taught at a number of workshops. A major topic was how to lead in the workplace as an empowered woman. Throughout this time, Dr White was putting together everything she had learnt.
“In August of 2017, I launched my online course called Practice Your Passion,” says Dr White. “It’s an eight-week course designed for dental women. It distills everything I’ve learned in the past 10 years and helps women find their freedom while still having abundance.” Some of the questions addressed are:
- How do we break through the stress and anxiety of dentistry?
- How do we find freedom and still earn profits with integrity?
- How do we become respected leaders, rather than wanting to be liked all the time?
- How do we communicate to wow our patients, staff and loved ones?
- How do we find more time?
Daily power shot
Practice Your Passion is like a daily 10- to 15-minute power shot. It imparts a little wisdom or a technique that can be applied straight away. In addition to Dr White, a high-performance coach, Nicole Stewart, works with the women and leads a community forum. Worldwide, over 150 women have taken the course since it first began in August 2017.
“My course is not about supplying direct answers,” says Dr White. “It’s about teaching women how to find the solutions themselves. I want to empower them so they can deal with whatever comes their way.”
With more female dentists in Australia than ever before and with International Women’s Day taking place on 8 March, Practice Your Passion is a timely and effective tool for dental women.
Dental women unite
The response to the course has been overwhelming and Dr White has spoken at a number of dental events and women’s groups. The Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch asked her to speak about stress in the workplace.
“My hope for the future is that Practice Your Passion is going to be embraced by all dental women,” says Dr White. “This is about creating a movement. When women support women, magic happens. I’ve also had many women reach out to me who are not dentists and are desperate to be in the program.
“Eventually, I plan to extend this to all women in medicine. When we tap into our true power and potential as women to empathise, nurture, intuit and heal from our hearts, that has a direct exponential effect on our patients’ ability to heal. “If we can heal and fill ourselves first, then we can help everyone else.”
Practice Your Passion can be found online.