You’ve made it through your studies and are a qualified dental practitioner. If you feel daunted about the transition from study to work, have professional questions, or want advice about reaching your career goals, it may help to find a mentor.
A mentor is an adviser and a peer, a source of guidance and insight, who also has significant experience in your chosen field.
A mentorship is a great way to develop personally and professionally as a dental practitioner. It can help you to understand everything that isn’t in a textbook – the hands-on, practical knowledge that comes from years of practice.
Your mentor can share what they have learnt from their professional experience. At conversations and get-togethers outside of normal work hours or routines, ask them to describe their individual approach to business, practice management and patient care – things for you to consider and use to develop your own way of doing things.
Every mentorship is different, but the types of things that a mentor could help you with include:
- reviewing your cases
- offering constructive feedback
- explaining professional ethics
- discussing workplace issues
- recommending ways to improve specific skills, or
- suggesting strategies for achieving professional goals.
A mentorship can be a great way for someone to ‘accompany’ you through the first and possibly the most challenging year of your career as a dental practitioner.
In a busy practice it can be hard to find the time to connect with and talk to your colleagues about how things are done, what to try or the best practices. If you feel you lack confidence or are under pressure to perform and don’t want to confide in a colleague, your mentor can be your guide and sounding board. As well as a handy professional resource, talking to your mentor can help to prevent feelings of isolation in your daily practice.
The most successful mentorships are based on trust and good communication. The mentor helps the mentee develop the knowledge, confidence, self-esteem and experience they need to deliver excellent dental services and realise their career goals.
A good mentor is someone who can offer useful, relevant advice and is someone you can brainstorm with and who offers another point of view.
Having a mentor can be helpful at any time in your career when you are making a transition, such as moving from a general to specialist role, returning to work or from part-time to full-time work, or moving into a management or leadership role.
A mentorship is often a positive experience for both parties, with mentors finding that they are engaged and encouraged to give back to the profession.
It is important to find someone you trust, who is experienced, whose opinions that you want to hear, or who works in a specialist field that interests you.
Your mentor could be a senior staff member at your new place of work, your university professor or supervisor, someone whose work you admire and follow, a name suggested by a peer, or a match made as part of a mentorship program run by some professional associations.
A mentorship usually starts with a conversation. To find the right mentor:
- Approach people who work in the specialist areas or types of practices that interest you.
- Cold call – ask potential mentors about their experiences and practices. You should get a sense quickly of whether there is a possible mentor-mentee dynamic between you.
- Request recommendations – ask friends and colleagues for introductions, as they can be more effective and less intimidating than cold calls.
- Seek advice from your professional association.
A mentorship is not like a lecture in which you sit and absorb information passively.
You will get more out of the arrangement if you are an active participant bringing your ideas, questions and work experiences to the relationship.
- ask to shadow your mentor and take note of things they do well
- list your goals – for the mentorship, your current job, your career
- ask detailed questions about procedures, protocols or solving problems
- ask for insights – the best way to do something, what to avoid, things to look out for
- request honest feedback
- ask what you can contribute to the relationship – is there anything you can teach your mentor?
- express gratitude. Let your mentor know that they have been instrumental in your professional life, and
- agree to disagree occasionally, respecting your mentor and the relationship the two of you have developed.