Mentoring has long been recognized as a valuable endeavor for both the mentor and mentee. This is very much the case in dental hygiene, especially for new graduates making the transition from student to practitioner. Here, we discuss how established practitioners can build rewarding mentor relationships with the next generation of dental hygienists.
Mentoring is a two-way relationship in which the mentor (you!) uses their knowledge and experience to support the mentee in their career development. In the case of a recent graduate, you would be guiding them as they adjust to professional practice, advance their clinical skills, and establish their long-term career goals.
The value of receiving mentorship is widely acknowledged. In a study published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, it was found that the more mentoring dental hygiene directors had received, the greater their career satisfaction. So how exactly does being mentored make such a significant impact?
For dental hygienists transitioning from school to practice, the clinical environment can be intimidating at first. Working at a faster pace with increased responsibilities, they no longer have the safety net of teachers and instructors. They may find that their new colleagues use some systems and techniques they are unfamiliar with. For some, it may also be their first experience of a professional workplace and the dynamics that come with it. A mentor can help to bridge the gap and bolster a mentee’s confidence as they adjust to their new environment.
As somebody who has walked the same path, a mentor can help to foster realistic expectations of clinical practice and the challenges (and rewards!) that come with it. As the mentee faces new experiences and challenges, a mentor can provide them with valuable perspectives, insights, advice and encouragement. As a result, mentees will typically feel more supported and empowered in their new roles.
As the mentee’s career develops, mentors can help them gain clarity and direction around their career path and encourage them to pursue ambitious goals. With established professional networks, the mentor can also facilitate new relationships, collaborations, and career-building opportunities.
While the benefits for mentees are plentiful, mentoring is by no means a one-way relationship! Like their mentees, many mentors report greater career satisfaction and engagement in their work. In this interview, mentor Janis McClelland tells Colgate that she talks about her own goals and “growing pains” with her mentee, and she gets the satisfaction of passing on her knowledge and seeing a talented hygienist realize her full potential. Others find that mentoring hones their leadership skills and exposes them to fresh ideas and new perspectives. The impact of mentoring extends even beyond the mentor and mentee. Their engagement, enthusiasm and job satisfaction positively impacts their workplaces, leading to better team relationships and improved patient care.
When mentoring is a rewarding experience, everybody wins. If you’re considering mentoring a dental hygiene graduate, here are some tips to build a successful, rewarding partnership.
1. Do your due diligence
Before committing to a mentoring relationship, it’s important to ensure that you and your mentee are compatible. As discussed in Dental Economics, there must be good alignment between your career path and your mentee’s goals in order for them to benefit from your shared experience. She also emphasizes the importance of compatibility, stating that this is essential for building rapport and creating a sense of psychological safety for the mentee.
2. Define expectations
Start the relationship off on a positive note by setting expectations on both sides. Make sure that you and your mentee are in agreement on what support you can offer, how and when you can communicate with each other, and what responsibilities each of you will have.
3. Set clear goals
Early on in the relationship, encourage your mentee to define short-term and long-term goals for their career. Help them clarify their goals, develop an actionable plan, and identify any continuing education or advanced skills they may need to progress.
4. Provide accountability
If we only have ourselves to answer to, it can be tempting to give up or slack off on our goals when the going gets tough. Encouraging your mentee to share their goals with you means that you can hold them accountable and motivate them when they need it most. Check in on their progress regularly and help them identify strategies to get past any roadblocks.
5. Challenge your mentee
Overcoming challenges is the key to continued growth. Provide opportunities for your mentee to step out of their comfort zone by, for example, encouraging them to take the lead on a community outreach activity or pursue an advanced qualification.
6. Promote independence
You will not be able to answer every question your mentee has, nor will you have encountered every challenge they face. What you can do, though, is help them to develop their problem-solving and decision-making skills so that they feel confident in seeking out their own answers. Direct them to helpful resources, connect them to other professionals, or simply be a sounding board for them to bounce ideas off.
7. Encourage curiosity
Your mentee, like all of us, will have certain assumptions and preconceptions based on their unique life experiences. Encourage them to challenge these by asking “why?” Why do I assume this is the best treatment option? Why do I assume I’m looking at this particular condition? Why do I assume this about my patient? What evidence is there to support my assumptions?
8. Foster connections
Think about the various networks you’re involved in, such as professional associations and community groups. If you benefit from the connections you’ve made in these groups, chances are your mentee will benefit too. Encourage them to participate and introduce them to trusted peers and other experts who can expand their knowledge, provide them with opportunities, and support their growth.
9. Provide constructive feedback
You will often be the first person your mentee looks to for feedback on challenging situations or interactions. In all cases, strive to offer honest feedback that also provides an opportunity for growth. Offer them advice not just on what they need to improve, but how they might go about improving it. This prevents them from ruminating on the problem and instead gives them actionable steps to resolve it.