The connections and relationships that we make with others are as important as the experiences that we have, and that’s as true for professional matters as it is for anything else. When it comes to dentistry, many of the best clinicians rely on the advice and wisdom that they’ve gained through important mentorships and professional relationships over the course of their career.
I owe a great deal to the people who mentored me when I was starting out on my professional journey, and I believe strongly in sharing my dental knowledge and experience with others who are taking their first steps down the same path. Below, I’ll help you learn more about why mentorship is so important for practicing dentists and give you some advice on how to find an experienced professional when you need one.
What Can Dental Clinicians Gain from Mentorship?
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that education is about more than simply completing a program, a practicum, and examinations. These experiences in dental school and residency are vital for becoming a successful clinician, but they won’t provide everything you need, either.
The truth is, a mentor can help you learn things that mere school or hospital based training can’t—and not just things about dentistry itself. The right mentor can also help you develop deeper knowledge of yourself and your abilities.
What aspects of clinical practice do you have a natural affinity for, and what areas do you need to improve in? It’s not always easy to be consistently self-aware about these things, but having an experienced professional at your side who has spent time getting to know you and your work can be a way to discover important information you might not find on your own.
What Should Aspiring Clinicians Look for from Mentorship?
Before seeking out a mentor, it’s vital that you know what you want to attain from mentorship. This means having a strong sense of your career goals, and an idea of the competencies that you want to build in order to reach them effectively.
Consider searching for job postings that you would like to hold in the future, and make a list of the required criteria for each ideal candidate. Then rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 for each of them to get an idea of where you want to improve. This exercise is an excellent way to clarify your priorities as well as the skills you need to develop.
Finding a Prospective Mentor
First, potential mentors are present in the dental school and residency settings as well as in professional practices where you might seek associateship. Seek out faculty members and attendings who give not only clinical instruction on procedures but who are strong at explaining dental diagnosis and treatment planning. Pay attention to the thought processes and critical thinking of these individuals as they develop diagnostic and therapeutic care of patients. What do they look at and for and what guides their thinking and their delivery of care? And, importantly, observe how your mentor speaks with and relates to patients, as communication skills and genuinely caring for and about patients are fundamental to success in dental practice on every possible level. Of course, you can’t just approach anybody to be your mentor. Finding someone with the clinical experience, the ability to educate you, and the willingness to help develop your career might sound like a tall order—but here are a few signs to help point you in the right direction:
It’s critical to make sure any mentor you approach specializes in the same areas of dentistry that you plan to focus on in your career. For example, my clinical specialty is General Dentistry with a focus on advanced restorative care and surgical and implant dentistry, which makes me a suitable potential mentor for aspiring primary care providers with interests in restorative, surgical and implant care. This experience has also helped me become a versatile dental expert witness, since many dental malpractice issues are centered on alleged incidents involving primary care providers, restorative care and surgical and implant dentistry.
Before approaching a potential mentor, I recommend seeking out any recent publications they have and reading them. This will not only give you additional details about the areas in which your potential mentor specializes, but it will also teach you about the way they organize their thoughts and approach their work.
These details can help you gauge whether the person in question communicates and acts in ways that are compatible with your own, which is critical to identifying someone who can mentor you successfully.
Educational & Leadership Credentials
Finally, ensure that your chosen mentor has the educational experience to guide you as well as the skills and knowledge that are consistent with your professional needs, objectives and aspirations. The optimal way to do this is by reviewing their resume (or their LinkedIn profile) and taking note of the following information:
- Where they have studied
- Where they have taught or held faculty appointments
- What fellowships, special certifications or licenses they hold
- How much continuing and ongoing education and training do they pursue
- What is the nature and scope of their professional practice
Asking for Mentorship
Once you’ve determined a suitable potential mentor, the next step is to approach them and ask if they’ll “take you under their wing”. This might seem intimidating, but remember: most dentists spend more time serving patients than actively networking with colleagues.
What does that mean? Simple: a mentor who will be truly valuable to you is probably also going to be busy. It’s better to be proactive and reach out to them than wait and hope they take an interest in you.
Writing a professional email to your prospective mentor or making contact via their website are both excellent ways to express your interest in an appropriate way and put the ball in their court. Introduce yourself, identify your interest in being mentored, provide a reason or two for why you’d like to meet them, and close with an invitation to continue the conversation. It’s much simpler than you might think—and it can be much more effective than you might imagine.
An excellent and optimal mentorship is one that is available to a young dentist who associates with an established practitioner as an employee. If you are able to work as an associate or employee dentist in a high level practice where an experienced clinician is able to and likes to guide and mentor you, then you are very fortunate, as you will work and learn in a dynamic, effective and highly desirable learning environment.