Learning from Dr. Cathy Hung

Most dentists and oral-maxillofacial surgeons have heard about Dr. Cathy Hung. Her advice is frequently featured on the New Dentist Now blog and Dental Practice Success column of the American Dental Association. Her new book, Pulling Wisdom, has started the much needed conversation on building cultural competency in health care professionals, especially those serving diverse, multi lingual and immigrant communities.

When I asked her what her message to young female dentists would be, this was her response: ‘One of the biggest lessons I wish to pass to young women dentists and new practitioners is to develop mental toughness. This means to train yourself to reduce self-doubt and get tough-skinned. DON’T be quick to apologize and don’t get your feelings hurt easily. This is an important skill in business where different opinions arise. Give yourself a chance to articulate your points across the table with your peers, especially male counterparts. With this skill, you will be able to explain to your patients why your treatment is necessary. With this skill, you will carry yourself strongly to express your opinions in a sea of male professionals (and female) when debate starts to get heated.’

Train yourself to reduce self-doubt and get tough-skinned. DON’T be quick to apologize and don’t get your feelings hurt easily.

What is mental toughness?

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Dr. Hung’s powerful message made me look into what mental toughness was and how it could be created. Mental toughness has been referred to as ‘grit’ by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist, author and Mac Arthur fellow. In her words, ‘Grit is the persistence and perseverance one demonstrates towards achieving long term goals.’ In her decades long research, where she interviews military cadets, spelling bee contest winners, and public-school students in NYC, Chicago and San Francisco, she discovers that children and adults who go on to lead successful lives, have a combination of personality traits helping them win. It is not intelligence or ‘IQ’ alone that helps them get there.

Grit is the persistence and perseverance one demonstrates towards achieving long term goals.

What makes people mentally tough?

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The personality traits successful people espouse are: courage, even in the face of failure, conscientiousness or a commitment to excellence, a deep awareness of long term goals, which requires hours and hours of practice, to be exact, ’10,000 hours’ as discovered by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, and resilience. These traits are related to the demonstration of strong daily habits. Habits ranging from manifestation, positive self-talk, meditation, to journaling and seeking mentorship.

Children who go on to lead successful lives, have a combination of personality traits helping them win.

Imposter Syndrome

This data is particularly riveting, especially while considering how strong the incidence of Imposter Syndrome is in female healthcare professionals. Over half of young female professionals experience medium to strong tendencies towards Imposter Syndrome (Clance, 1978; Bravata 2019), a topic not as often discussed in dental and medical schools. Imposter Syndrome, or the feeling of not being good enough, often leads people to develop burnout earlier. Victims experience higher levels of anxiety, and causes them to not reach out for leadership positions available in their communities. This leads to fewer female mentors and repeats the cycle for future generations. It also appears to threaten diversity. (Chrousos, 2020)

What can we do now?

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Start today by building your mind the way you build a new muscle or a new skillset. Work on your mind a little every day. Do something daily that pushes you towards your end goals. Practice positive self-talk and eliminating negative thoughts.

Believe that you can and will achieve things that you previously did not think possible. Lastly, don’t be fearful about what others will say and think, it is what you think of your life that matters the most.

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