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Cultivating a mentorship mentality in dental hygienists can reduce burnout, increase satisfaction, and propel career advancement.
The profession of dental hygiene can be challenging, especially in a fast-paced practice. For both new graduates and seasoned hygienists, having a mentor who can offer guidance and support is invaluable. Over nearly 30 years in the dental field, I have benefited from many excellent mentors in my life, both personally and professionally. My hygiene mentors have pushed me to be better than I thought I could be and reach career heights I didn’t know I could achieve.
Clearly, mentorship is a critical factor in building a successful career, especially in hygiene. However, it can be difficult to find the right mentor and cultivate the sort of relationship that benefits both parties. As long as hygienists understand what a good mentor-mentee relationship looks like and remain open to guidance from individuals at all levels and career stages, they’ll be able to take advantage of everything this unique relationship has to offer.
A good mentor can spot potential
Dental hygienists have many crucial roles to play. We educate patients about their oral health care, support dentists and other medical professionals, lead teams, and offer guidance and support to our colleagues. A great mentor will see a hygienist’s potential and help them cultivate their skill sets so all those responsibilities seem exciting rather than daunting.
To receive all the benefits of mentorship, mentees must be open to coaching and listen to the advice and guidance they receive, no matter the source. In my career, I didn’t have to search for a mentor; mentorship naturally happened as I reached out to those around me with more experience and asked them questions. I have had mentors older than me who were full of wisdom and experience, and I have had mentors younger than me who saw opportunities and challenges from a very different perspective. Both have helped me become a better person and achieve a greater level of success. Keep in mind that as a hygienist, the best mentor may not be another hygienist but an office manager, a dental assistant, or a dentist.1 By being curious and seeking out individuals who can answer their questions, hygienists will find the right mentors for them.
A mentor minimizes roadblocks
The practice of dental hygiene can undoubtedly be stressful, especially for new hygienists. Going from an educational environment to the reality of a high-volume dental practice can be overwhelming; new systems, new protocols, new technology, and new coworkers all demand attention. Having a mentor within the office or organization to help hygienists navigate these challenges and cultivate time management skills will reduce stress for both the hygienist and their team and ultimately result in a better experience for the patient as well.
When the challenge of hygiene becomes too much, hygienists can experience burnout. A recent survey of hygienists in California found approximately one-third of respondents were experiencing symptoms of burnout.2 This finding is alarming considering the ongoing shortage of dental hygienists in the healthcare industry. Mentors can help hygienists complete onboarding more quickly and seamlessly, develop coping mechanisms to alleviate stress and achieve greater success. Having a trusted mentor to speak to can often make hygienists feel more valued and appreciated.2
I’ve experienced this in my own career. My first great mentor was a periodontist I worked with for nearly 10 years. He taught me excellent hand skills, but more importantly, he taught me how to connect with patients and build trust. Building trust with patients is one of the most important challenges in dental hygiene, and this skill has been instrumental to my success both professionally and personally. Working for an office or organization that has a firmly established mentorship program or promotes the value of mentorship will set up hygienists to be more resilient to burnout and overcome all the challenges associated with hygiene work.
A mentor makes goals more achievable
A good mentor doesn’t just keep hygienists from falling when faced with obstacles; he or she lifts them up to new heights. As health care providers, hygienists are dedicated to being lifelong learners; graduating from a dental hygiene program is only the first step in becoming an excellent clinician. Developing a mentor relationship with a more experienced hygienist can support that learning journey and create opportunities for hygienists to do more than chairside hygiene.
In addition to contributing to lifelong learning, a good mentor will also push hygienists to achieve bigger goals. Midway through my career, I had a mentor who had very high expectations and consistently pushed me to be better at everything I did. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. As a result, I achieved more than I thought possible, which helped me rise in my career. The relationship wasn’t always easy, and I wasn’t always fond of him. But he knew I had a deep well of potential, and he was right. The best mentors will recognize and cultivate hygienists’ potential and push them to be the best they can possibly be.
We all have a responsibility to mentor new hygienists
Mentorship is such an incredibly valuable and special opportunity, both for the mentor and the mentee. I believe all experienced hygienists have a professional responsibility to mentor those who are new to the profession. A great mentor is open and available for questions and discussion; they both respect the mentee and guide them to the answers they seek. Mentors should never speak down to their mentees or belittle them. Likewise, mentees should be respectful of their mentors and always be willing to absorb advice to learn and grow.
For those who have benefited from mentors, it’s so important to pay it forward and continue the practice of mentorship. By cultivating these reciprocal relationships, we as hygienists can form rock-solid support systems around us that can prevent burnout, develop our skill sets, achieve new career heights, and set us up for continued success.