Louise Nash discusses how mentoring can benefit dental professionals on both sides of the arrangement.

Along with many other professions, dentistry is seeing an increase in the development of a mentoring culture, where individuals are encouraged and supported in their personal development. There is a growing realisation that to be a good dental professional it is necessary not just to have a set of excellent technical skills, but also to be able to have a high level of diagnostic, personal and motivational skills.

In order to achieve these goals it is vital that we work together as a profession in a supportive and caring environment. Mentoring can perform an important role in these areas.

The term 'mentor' comes from the classical epic Homer's Odyssey, in which Mentor is the tutor to whom the hero Odysseus entrusts his son, Telemachus, while he went to fight the Trojan War. The role is one of responsibility and trust, where the mentor acts as a guide and as an example for the mentee to emulate.

Many dental professionals can benefit from a mentoring relationship; most newly qualified dentists are mentored during their foundation or vocational training. Others may be returning to work after a career break and wish to increase their confidence, while some may be having difficulties and need additional professional help and personal support at a difficult time in their career.

Sometimes the GDC or NHSE may offer undertakings or impose conditions specifying that a registrant has to work alongside a mentor in order to address identified shortcomings.

Although specific learning goals may be identified and used as a basis for enhancing competencies, the role's focus can go beyond these areas to include other things, such as work/life balance, self-confidence, self-awareness and how one's personal and professional life are intimately entwined.

Mentoring is relationship-oriented; it seeks to provide a safe environment where the mentee shares whatever issues affect their professional and personal success. To be helpful, mentoring requires time in which both partners can learn about one another and build a climate of trust. This in turn creates an environment in which the mentee can feel secure in sharing the real issues that impact their success.

Mentoring is never one-sided. It should be based on mutual understanding where responsibilities and arrangements are clearly understood and documented.

Two sides of the story

The role of mentor can be immensely satisfying and watching someone grow and reflect on their own learning and development can be an enhancing experience.

The benefits of mentoring include gaining insight into the mentee's background and history, as well as enjoying the satisfaction of sharing expertise and experience.

For the mentee, there are many rewards. Learning from the mentor's expertise, receiving constructive criticism in key areas like communication and interpersonal relationships, as well as acquiring specific skills and knowledge that are relevant to personal goals in order to develop that all-important insight. It can also be a great bonus to have a trusted person with whom to share frustrations as well as successes.

Mentoring is never one-sided. It should be based on mutual understanding where responsibilities and arrangements are clearly understood and documented. Proper remuneration should be agreed in advance and outcomes monitored through recognised assessment methods, any expectations should be reasonable and achievable.

There is obviously a duty of care involved in the relationship and 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, and that as a result there could possibly be implications if there are adverse outcomes.

Training and education

Successful mentoring relationships typically last nine to twelve months. If you're thinking of becoming a mentor, you can definitely benefit from some form of extra educational training. This can help you to be competent in such processes as assessing strengths and weaknesses, preparing and working towards a personal development plan and identifying learning needs. Training in providing constructive feedback is another essential skill.

Foundation and vocational trainers usually receive this as part of their induction and many corporate bodies now run mentoring courses based on foundation training lines, which should be quality assured. There are also many excellent post graduate courses in medical education for those wishing to pursue mentoring to a higher level.

Ultimately the mentor-mentee relationship is a keystone to the improvement of patient care and can be incorporated into the development of the community of practice - as described by John Makin, head of DDU, in his spring journal article.

Useful links

Teaching and learning for health professionals, University of Bristol

Dental Mentors UK

Practitioner Performance Advice (formerly National Clinical Assessment Service)

This page was correct at publication on 20/06/2017. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.