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The value of a mentor

18 February 2021

Those first steps into the professional workforce are daunting for any dental graduate. Dr Mohit Tolani says that finding a mentor can be a big help.

Dental graduates in Australia emerge from a four-year postgraduate or five-year undergraduate education program to enter the professional healthcare workforce. During the final year of university, imminent graduates always seem to be contemplating the ‘mentoring aspect’ of future jobs.

I recollect many of my own classmates asking practices and hospitals if mentoring was included in any job offer. This is likely due to the fact that the transition from student to working professional has been perceived by many to be greatly challenging, with frustration, disillusionment and a lack of self-assurance.[1]

Among the competition of new graduates, many tend to feel inadequate in challenging situations and time management, and when supervising support work.[2] When I started working, a colleague asked me if I knew what was happening in my sterilisation unit and how instruments were getting managed, as practices vary; as said by him: “Any mistake there can bounce back on you, as you are the clinician working there.”

This paved the way for me to seek ‘experts’ in the field with all the answers. The following tips are based on my experiences in mentoring and mentor-finding in early clinical years:

    •  Try and source a senior dentist in the workplace who would be able to assist you with complex cases and patient management tips. Have an open and honest discussion about your strong points and areas that you find challenging: acknowledging these early on may assist both of you in provision of assistance and improvement.

    •   If there isn’t a senior dentist or an experienced clinician readily available, then try speaking to some dental specialists or dentists with specialist expertise, in consultation with the practice. Personally, I found this useful for discussing many complex cases and their viewpoint, especially knowing when to draw the line when it is too complex or out of my current scope of practice. I discovered that most of my local specialists were happy to assist new graduates, and also invited them to the study clubs.

    •   Do not discount the power of your university teacher – I felt that my mentors from university were very helpful. I am still in contact with some of them and obtain advice when needed.

    •   External mentoring programs, such as the ones run by the Australian Dental Association, are also beneficial. In my new job, where I relocated interstate within a regional area, I found this very constructive as I wanted to meet local practitioners and speak to someone to gain advice; not just work-related, but related to professional growth through their lens.

The transition into a new job from university involves the development of a new identity, which can require counselling and guidance. Because of this, mentoring has been deemed pivotal to professional growth during the first few years of practice, and it has been suggested that mentoring should be instituted within clinical practice settings. I did find through mentoring a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.

[1] Hollands K, McMahon S, Copley J, Johnston K, Bunyan C, Hoyes N et al, The effectiveness of a mentoring program for new graduate allied health professionals, Focus on Health Professional Education, 3(2), 42-58 (2001).

[2] Atkinson K, Steward B, A Longitudinal Study of Occupational Therapy New Practitioners in their First Years of Professional Practice: Preliminary Findings, British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 60(8), 338-342 (1997).

This article was published as 'A helping hand: the value of mentoring' in Issue 18 of Dental Student Australia.

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