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Supervising others

01 November 2019

Mentoring can be great for career progression, job satisfaction and skill development, but how is your protection affected when you are supervising a colleague?

Dental Protection often gets asked by members whether they require additional indemnity when it comes to advising or supervising their professional colleagues. Following on from this another commonly asked question is whether they are liable for any acts by their mentee.

In New Zealand the Dental Association has developed a very well-run mentorship programme for young dentists. Dental Protection fully encourages this activity, as it provides elements of training for both mentors and mentees and provides real value to the profession. The programme creates opportunity for interaction around the many nonclinical aspects of establishing young dentists through the transition from a non-clinical environment to that of the dental practice.

Every individual practitioner has a duty of care to their patients, but there is also one in a mentoring relationship. So, while each individual practitioner has responsibility for patients in whose treatment they are involved, mentors should be aware that there could be assumed an ethical dimension even when they are not treating the patient personally. While it does depend on the relationship between the practitioner and their mentee, the mentor may, in some respects, have a limited responsibility for the outcomes.

Mentee autonomy 

The best way forward in a “true” mentoring arrangement is to have clear documentation confirming that the mentee is autonomous and working independently. This would mean that regardless of advice and guidance provided by the mentor, it would be very difficult to demonstrate responsibility for treatment on their part.

It may be helpful to consider the following when embarking upon mentoring:

• expectations and outcomes agreed upon before any supervision begins
• frequency of sessions, where they will take place and how long for
• professional boundaries.

In any case, a mentor should never assume that they cannot be considered partly responsible if there are any adverse outcomes from the mentee’s treatment of a patient. A mentor could end up being drawn into investigations if the mentee feels that the end result is due to advice or guidance provided by the mentor. Dentists participating in Dental Council mandated supervision of another dentist need to be particularly careful that they are fully aware of the Council’s requirements of that arrangement and seek advice from Dental Protection should they feel they are exposed to difficulties or risk related to their supervision of the practitioner concerned.

Mentor endorsement

If the supervision or mentoring position is within a training organisation, complaints can be brought against the organisation, especially if they have approved or endorsed someone as a mentor.

If the mentee has paid an individual or organisation for the mentoring service, then the contractual obligations are even easier to demonstrate.

Part of the job

As a mentoring role is part of your professional activity, additional subscriptions will not be charged. This is unless you have chosen your membership in a non-clinical category that excludes any involvement with patients.

Implant dentistry is an area that mentors are sometimes called in to supervise with when junior colleagues are working on their first cases. As a practitioner, if you are mentoring a colleague who is placing implants, then you must both be appropriately registered by the Dental Council and have adequate and appropriate indemnity in place.

Members are welcome to turn to us for advice and support when it comes to taking on a mentoring role, however, we wouldn’t normally extend this advice or support to the organisation or individual they may be providing the mentoring service for.