Mentoring in Dentistry: Promoting Growth and Development

Posted Sep 4th, 2019 in the wire

by Shawn Steele, M.Ed., D.D.S, dentalcorp Clinical Coach, City-wide Chief of Dentistry at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC)


With September and the launch of a new school year, we inevitably begin to think about learning and education. When it comes to facilitating the learning and development of new healthcare professionals, mentoring is noted as being a key mechanism to accomplish this goal. While mentoring may not be as prevalent in dentistry as it is in other health professions, the principles and expected benefits are equally applicable and relevant. 

The process involves the pairing of an experienced dentist, the mentor, with a less experienced dentist, the mentee, in order to help the latter attain professional goals and to progress throughout their careers. The mentor serves as a support person and facilitator for the mentee, with the goal of promoting professional development and growth of the mentee through the sharing of knowledge, information and perspectives.

Mentoring relationships can be initiated formally or informally. Formal relationships may be facilitated or encouraged if working within a larger organization or as part of a professional association or group. In these scenarios, a new dentist is paired with a dentist willing and trained to act as a mentor as part of a formal and structured program with clear goals and objectives. Informal mentoring relationships are typically formed when a new dentist independently seeks out an experienced dentist to serve as a guide. These relationships tend to be less structured with variable objectives and outcomes.

Keys to successful mentoring

The success of any type of mentoring relies on a productive and functional relationship between mentor and mentee that is based upon reciprocal trust and respect. This is facilitated when mentors and mentees enter the relationship with clear expectations. The setting of ground rules is essential and requires a frank discussion to determine parameters around such things as communication, commitment, responsibility and timelines. Strong commitment between both parties is essential, and open and ongoing communication is required for success.  Mentoring is a two-way street and both the mentor and mentee have equally important roles to play.

Personal characteristics and traits also serve as key determinants of success. Good mentors exhibit qualities of openness, humility, patience and empathy. Mentors who offer the most are those who practice active listening, can be reflective and are able to serve as a professional role model and guide. It is not essential that a mentor be able to address every question or concern of the mentee, but rather is able to facilitate learning and growth by directing the mentee to the required tools and resources. Mentees who will gain the most from the experience are those who have a desire for learning, are eager to develop, enthusiastic, open-minded and receptive to feedback and guidance. An important skill to develop for mentees is critical reflection, as success of the experience requires an honest self-assessment of one’s learning and development needs.

Benefits of mentoring

Best practices of mentoring dictate that the mentor will guide the mentee in the creation of learning objectives that are required to achieve the desired professional development and growth. These objectives will serve as a starting point for discussions around the relationship and what it may entail. While a mentee may have an idea about where they want to go, it is the mentor’s role to guide and support the journey, or where appropriate, suggest alternate routes.

The benefits of mentoring include creating a sense of belonging, improving productivity, achieving goal clarity, increasing confidence and greater job satisfaction. Mentoring can be a rewarding experience not only for the mentor and mentee but also for the organization and profession by creating a positive climate and culture. A fruitful and effective mentoring relationship is a win for everyone involved. Dentists at all stages of their careers should consider becoming involved in mentoring. Whether as a mentor or mentee, the sharing of knowledge, wisdom and perspectives will provide a meaningful experience.

As previously published in Oral Health Office. This can also be found online here.


About the Author

Dr. Shawn Steele graduated from Western University with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 2005 and entered into private practice. While continuing to practice dentistry, Dr. Steele earned a Juris Doctor degree and a Master of Education degree. He is an Assistant Professor at Schulich Dentistry, the City-wide-Chief of Dentistry for London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London and continues to work in private practice. Dr. Steele serves as the Clinical Coach for dentalcorp’s Associate Development Program and is committed to supporting the development and growth of dentists and the dental profession.

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