Mental Health - How Mentorship Can Keep The Journey Stable
Graduating from dental school and becoming a fully registered dental professional can be an exciting chapter of life and marks the beginning of our professional careers. However dental school only provides the foundational skills for us to be safe clinicians.Our journey of learning truly begins the first day on the job as qualified dental professionals. The first year out as a dental professional can be a roller coaster ride and our emotions and mental health can be tested along the way. The key to having the smoothest transition from dental student to professional clinician is to have mentorship.
Mentorship is the influence, guidance, or direction given by a mentor to a mentee. A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help or advice to a less experienced and often younger person. In Dentistry, mentors are senior, experienced clinicians who help facilitate the personal and professional growth and development of a new or recent graduate dentist. A mentee on the other side of this relationship is any self-motivated individual who is committed to personal and professional growth and willing to learn from someone who has more experience and expertise than them.
There are many types and styles of mentorship one can experience and also employ as a mentor depending on your personality, values and temperament. Some practices or employers also offer mentorship programmes, which are structured frameworks for new and recent graduates to be guided in their first year of transitioning from dental student to professional dentist. Mentorship settings can be set up in one of three ways; one-on-one, distance mentoring between two locations, utilising virtual technology and group mentoring where a single mentor is matched to a cohort of mentees.
Tobin discusses in his article on mentorship published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine that a mentor has at least seven roles to fill: teacher, sponsor, advisor, agent, role model, coach and confidante. The mentor then needs to customise each role towards the individual journey of the mentee. Here is how these seven different roles play out in a mentor-mentee relationship.
Teacher - the mentor in this role teaches the mentee some technical skills in dentistry in terms of how to become efficient in executing a particular procedure and also how to treatment plan and troubleshoot issues from first principles and evidence based philosophies. Mentors may also teach from their own experience what has worked well for them and how they were able to achieve consistent results with patients.
Sponsor - the role of a sponsor is to introduce a new graduate dentist to the real world of dentistry and support them as they begin to expand their mindset and vision towards what is possible for their future dental career.
Advisor - in this role, the mentor serves as an advisor and counsellor for the mentee by being a sounding board and helping to provide perspective on obstacles and challenges the new graduate dentist may be experiencing. Being more experienced, the mentor can provide the clarity in thought process for the mentee as these challenges have likely been already experienced and overcome by the mentor themselves.
Agent - in this instance a mentor is willing to help remove obstacles and be an agent for growth and learning for the mentee taking care not to spoon feed them and stunt the development of independence. This may translate in clinical practice to the mentor helping a mentee with parts of a case or where the mentee feels stuck with a clinical challenge, showing them how to troubleshoot and still execute a successful result.
Role Model - in this instance, a mentor acts as a role model by simply providing a good example of what a skilled, caring and competent clinician looks like and how they act on a daily basis for the mentee to emulate in future.
Coach - a good coach motivates their players to win. In this instance, a mentor acts as a coach for the mentee by giving them the necessary push and encouragement towards action. This allows them to reach a high standard which is structured by the mentor to allow the mentee to rise to their full potential as a clinician and provide excellent care to their patients.
Confidante - this is one of the most important roles a mentor can take for a mentee by being the safe space for them to share and discuss what’s on their mind and possibly troubling them. This particular role helps to really build trust and rapport between both the mentor and mentee and is a large factor in helping build emotional resilience in the mentee to maintain good mental health during their transition to becoming a professional dentist.
Finding the right mentor is critical to the success of having a smooth transition from dental student to professional dentist. Recognising that mentors may use varying styles, having more than one mentor can also be beneficial in order to learn from a wide range of experiences and perspectives. The relationship between the mentor and mentee is key, so ensure when finding a mentor, you first identify your own values and also what kind of dental career you wish to have. Once you have the end in mind, then all you need to do is find someone who has achieved the results you seek and has walked the journey before you and is willing to share their experiences to guide you to achieve similar dreams and goals!
Dr Kaejenn Tchia is a recent graduate working in a corporate private practice in Darwin, Northern Territory. He is the current Treasurer of the Australian Dental Association NT Branch Inc. In 2020, he was an inaugural member of the Bupa Dental Corporation Clinical Advisory Panel, helping guide strategic direction and providing input towards clinician development within the network of practices. He is passionate about helping and collaborating with fellow dental colleagues, recently embarking on a new journey to help recent graduates eliminate burnout through a 6-step B.E.L.I.E.F System through his motivational coaching platform, The Limitless Dentist. Kaejenn is a member of the Colgate Advocates for Oral Health Editorial Community and hopes to use this platform to raise awareness of the importance of mental health in dentistry and provide mindset tools, which can help his colleagues unlock their next level of growth and