“A sympathetic ear”: The importance of mentoring for dental practitioners

Dr Peter Norton

A Sympathetic Ear

Entering the field as a graduate

It’s not easy being a newly-graduated dentist. I remember my years of university-acquired knowledge seemed surprisingly unhelpful when I was confronted with patient after patient whose problems were often painful and urgent, and who seemed to expect from me decisiveness, precision and perfection, all at the lowest price.

Something that assisted me through those challenging early years was the support from various mentors, who helped me to calm down, contextualise and gradually find my feet in the profession.

Types of mentoring available

Mentoring relationships can be formal or informal, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience both.

My informal mentoring relationships generally developed organically with experienced co-workers, largely through off-the-cuff chats between patients, and tended to be specific to clinical scenarios.

I’ve also participated in formal mentoring programmes with state Australia Dental Association branches, the most recent of which was highly structured, with scheduled meetings and pre-agreed outcome aims.

This formal approach meant that we were able to meet regularly and there was less risk of either participant feeling like we were overstepping our bounds.

Whether formal or informal, it’s important that the theme of meetings is dictated by the mentee, in order to be as useful as possible to the mentee. It’s also important that even formal relationships have some flexibility for both participants.

Benefits of mentorship

Having a mentor can be immensely helpful for the professional development and mental health of the mentee. Most importantly, a mentorship allows a mentee to have a sounding board and a sympathetic ear, in a non-judgemental, safe space.

A mentoring relationship allows a mentee to gain some ‘real world’ perspective on their professional experiences, to compliment the academic theory we learn at university. I learned a great deal from my mentors about ways to communicate better with patients, specifically in setting expectations and managing complications.

For me, one of the most useful aspects of having mentors was getting an understanding of their career trajectory and the context I gleaned from seeing my mentors’ career paths; I wouldn’t always be treating anxious patients with toothaches, and would one day work towards promoting good health rather than treating urgent disease.

Mentoring is a two-way street

But it’s not just the mentees who benefit from the mentoring relationship, being a mentor can itself be hugely rewarding. Mentorship has been a valuable opportunity for me to learn from younger colleagues and to brush-up on rusty knowledge.

Mentoring has also forced me to review and rationalise my own professional procedures and attitudes as I explain them to a mentee, and I’m sure that this reflection has made me a better practitioner. Being a mentor has also allowed me to pay-forward the guidance I’ve received from my own excellent mentors.

Mentoring and Dental Practitioner Support

Dental Practitioner Support is an invaluable resource when it comes to mentoring relationships. If a mentee presents a mental health issue, I’m grateful to have Dental Practitioner Support as somewhere I can refer a mentee or as a resource for me to obtain mentoring guidance.

So far, I’ve been blessed with very harmonious mentoring relationships, but I’m glad Dental Practitioner Support is available should I need help in navigating a challenging mentor-mentee issue.

Modern life and dental practice tend to present various difficulties for us all, so I see Dental Practitioner Support as a ‘mental health mentor’ for everyone in the dental sphere, at any stage of their career.

No matter the stage of your dental career, give some thought to the mentoring opportunities that are available in your region and in your practice. It’s a chance to share experiences, knowledge and support to the benefit of everyone involved.

If you would like to speak to someone call us 24/7 on 1800 377 700 or you can request support via email.