Australian Dental Association - In the right direction - Michelle Gibbings

I was honoured to be asked to contribute to the Australian Dental Association’s focus on mentoring and its importance in the modern dental environment.

This article focuses on mentoring as a professional strategy, explores why mentoring has become so significant, and the rules that need to be followed to make the process a win-win for all involved.

You can read the entire article in the ADA magazine, here.

Mentoring has become an important part of the modern dental environment, with millennial graduates welcoming the value of good guidance in helping build their career paths, and mature dentists often learning just as much in return. The result of this level of specialised intelligence sharing is important at all stages of dentistry. This month, we look at mentoring as a professional strategy, and explore why it has become so significant, the rules that need to be followed and how to make the process a winner for all involved.

In recent years, mentoring has emerged as a topic that has many discussing its importance in professional development and career building, as well as making just good business sense.

Yet for all the focus it’s gained, the fact is there’s nothing new about mentoring. It’s a process of career direction that’s been around for centuries – the very name comes from Greek mythology, as Mentor was an adviser to Odysseus, and helped raise the king’s son, Telemachus.

Mentoring is defined by the US company Management Mentors as, ‘A professional relationship in which an experienced person (the mentor) assists another (the mentee) in developing specific skills and knowledge that will enhance the lessexperienced person’s professional and personal growth’.

According to Melbourne career consultant and trainer Louise Davis, mentoring has taken a more central business role in recent years as a result the millennial generation making their mark on the workplace.

“This is something the millennials completely get,” Davis says. “They well understand that having a mentor to help guide and advise them is one of the smartest things they can do when setting out on their new career path. It is about having someone whose advice you value and trust.”

And yet, for all the importance of mentoring among new graduates, one of the biggest misconceptions is it’s only for young people looking for direction on the way forward.


That was one of the issues addressed by Dr Nicky Kilpatrick in her mentoring presentation at the Australian Dental Congress in May.

“Mentoring can be particularly important when you are trying to make a transition – whatever that transition is,” Dr Kilpatrick said in her session.

“From under-grad to graduated, general practitioner to specialist, part-time to full-time, an associate to becoming an owner, moving into a leadership role or even returning to the workforce – it can be helpful to explore other opportunities.

“Having a mentor is about having someone who is a sounding board and who can offer advice, you can brainstorm with and use as a sounding board to get another point of view.”

Dr David Hallett, the CEO of the ADA WA branch, believes all dentists – no matter what career point they are at – need inspiration.

“There is always something positive about the experience of being one-on-one with our peers. For young graduates or more experienced dentists, fellowship and the sharing of experiences amongst peers cannot be taught or read about,” he says.

“It’s the reassurance from somebody who has ‘been there done that’, the introduction of some sanity, the boosting of self-esteem, reassurance that no matter what the challenges they face they can reach their potential and goals are achievable.

“And importantly, it’s realising mentoring can work both ways. I am constantly surprised at how mentees can mentor the mentor. Us old boys certainly do not know everything!”


As outlined in the ADA NSW’s The Australian Dental Association Professional Transition Support (ADAPTS) mentoring program notes, Mentor responsibilities included assisting the mentee to achieve their goals and objectives, facilitating in raising the bar in relation to the mentee’s potential, and providing advice, guidance and constructive feedback.

The listed responsibilities of the Mentee include a willingness to listen, desire to learn, a commitment to developing new skills and knowledge, and being receptive to constructive suggestions.

“Mentoring is about support,” Dr Nicky Kilpatrick explained. “It’s about a safe space for a conversation that results in reflection, action and learning. The word that comes out in the feedback is inspiration, nonjudgment, experience and someone they can look up to. They (mentees) want a nonjudgmental space where they’re listened to but not judged.”

She then outlined, just as importantly, some details of the things that mentoring is not.

“Mentoring is not clinical supervision nor a teaching experience. It’s not counselling or therapy, and it’s not about one person telling the other what to do, or being an expert in everything, or about criticising or judging.”