After graduation from dental school, I served as a dental officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, stationed on the Hopi Tribe reservation in northeastern Arizona. One of the reasons I decided to begin my career this way was to gain clinical experience by working with more seasoned dentists. This was a miscalculation — like me, my two colleagues at this posting had graduated only a few weeks earlier. No mentoring occurred — only friendship and encouragement.
My journey to mentoring became more successful when I left the Public Health Service for private practice in central Florida. I was employed as an associate by Dr. Hugh Hughston, who had offices in Mount Dora and Winter Park. Four days each week we worked in separate offices, but on Fridays we worked together in Winter Park. Meeting Hugh for breakfast at 6:45 a.m. was like taking a course in advanced practice management. He covered time management, staff issues, marketing, dealing with insurance, and, most helpfully, some of the big-picture issues of professional and personal goal setting.
Hugh’s mentoring continued into the clinical setting. He would often send his assistant to “get Dr. Park in here — he needs to see this,” when he was about to perform a procedure that I wasn’t doing (or wasn’t doing successfully). We would discuss some of the great conundrums of clinical dentistry, such as how to make a crown under an existing partial without taking away the patient’s partial. (Intraoral scanning and CAD/CAM solved that one, but many years too late to help us.)
But the best lessons that I learned from Dr. Hughston were about patient management. For Hugh, the secret to successful case presentation was showing that you cared about what was best for the patient, and displaying confidence in your ability to deliver the care they needed. And of course, knowing when to keep quiet — like when the patient complains about another doctor’s work or comments on your proposed fees. Sometimes it’s best simply to refuse to engage.
I’m not alone in acknowledging how a great mentor helped my career. In this issue, we interview Dr. Stephanie Tilley of Pensacola, Florida, along with her mentor, Dr. Timothy Kosinski. She talks about how she was able to make implants a productive and satisfying part of her practice, through Tim’s help and the great working relationship they developed. Similarly, Dr. Jay Oakey of Whitney, Texas, benefited from the generosity of Dr. Jack Hahn as he expanded his implant practice to include immediate placement after extraction.
In our survey reported in this issue, 94% of dentists said that mentorship can add to their success. But with only 51% reporting that they have been mentored, it is clear that experienced dentists can do more to help their younger colleagues. Drs. Hahn and Kosinski are great examples of people who do more, and there are many others. Consider joining them!