A mentor is someone who is experienced and can guide, teach and advise a less experienced person. In dental hygiene, a successful mentor relationship begins with the willingness of an experienced dental hygienist to offer time and expertise. It also requires the eagerness of a new dental hygienist to learn, listen and actively participate in the relationship.
Janis McClelland, RDH-EA, BSDH, and Shelley Fluegge, RDH, are a shining example of a successful mentor-mentee relationship. Janis was a dental assistant for 23 years prior to becoming a dental hygienist. She practiced dental hygiene for 21 years, but due to injury, Janis had to stop practicing. It was at this time that she began teaching at Mohave Community College (MCC) in Bullhead City, AZ.
Janis and Shelley met in 2014. This was during Janis' first year teaching and Shelley's second year in the dental hygiene program at MCC. Shelley graduated in May 2015 and has been practicing dental hygiene at a small family practice since June 2015. In addition to practicing dental hygiene full-time, she is currently pursuing her B.A. at Northern Arizona University.
Here is a Q&A with Janis and Shelley where they share the dynamics of their mentor relationship in their own words.
How did your mentor-mentee relationship begin?
- Janis: "Shelley was willing to learn. It was easy to fall into! It was apparent that Shelley wanted to become more than average. Shelley soaked up information, and she was involved in listening and learning."
- Shelley: "Janis was open to sharing information, and she made herself available. We talked and laughed a lot!"
How do you benefit from your relationship?
- Shelley: "[Even though I'm working at a private practice,] Janis is still available. If I come across a situation where I need advice, I reach out. Janis will advise me that, yes, I made the right decision or she offers another option."
- Janis: "It goes both ways. We discuss growing pains, and we talk through our goals of being a great health care provider."
Why do you feel your relationship is successful?
- Janis: "Shelley is patient. If I don't get back to her right away, she's still excited to talk when we have a chance to!"
- Shelley: "We are open to communication. We are both willing to give each other time, even if it takes time to get back to one another."
What tips can you give dental hygienists to get the most out of their mentor-mentee relationship?
- Janis: "Seek out a mentor. Someone who brings out the best in you!"
- Shelley: "It's OK if you don't find the right mentor. Keep looking, someone else is out there! There are many hygienists who are willing to mentor."
Is there anything else you would like to share with your fellow dental hygienists?
- Shelley: "As a new graduate I was more successful with the support of a mentor. It was important to have a mentor with a more mature career to be able to bounce things off of. For example, being able to ask 'Is this normal?' or to have a mentor tell me to keep going. Having a supportive, seasoned hygienist as a mentor is very important for helping a new hygienist become successful."
- Janis: "Coming out of school you have a lot to learn. A mentor can say, 'Hey, you aren't going to know everything, but you will learn a lot ... keep going.'"
- Janis: "I wanted to make sure Shelley would go on. I saw such big beautiful things for her. I kept encouraging her to go on."
- Shelley: "It has been invaluable! Janis prepared me for the real world."
Where to Begin
Are you an experienced dental hygienist willing to mentor a new dental hygienist? Follow the example set by Janis. Make yourself available, be willing to listen and offer helpful information to a dental hygienist who is entering the fast-paced, professional world.
Colgate Oral Health Advisor is a forum designed specifically to boost the professional growth of dental hygienists. In addition to the website, there is a private Facebook group where you can connect with your peers.
Attending a convention, such as RDH Under One Roof, is another excellent way to meet dental hygienists. In addition to excellent continuing education at RDH Under One Roof, you can also network with dental hygienists from across the country. It is a great opportunity to find that person who will bring out the best in you.
- Be open and willing to listen to establish a successful mentor relationship.
- Keep looking if you still have not found the right mentor. It takes time and that is OK!
- Seek a mentor who will bring out the best in you.
Why It's Important
Janis and Shelley share that they both benefit from their mentor-mentee relationship. Shelley has been able to seek advice and guidance from a mature, experienced dental hygienist. In turn, Janis has been able to see a young professional spread her wings and fly. Dental hygiene is a challenging and rewarding career. Having someone by your side who will guide, teach and advise you is invaluable.