Universities have realised that new graduates have as much to offer mentors as the mentors have to offer students.
Australia (UWA) they are offered mentoring. “I believe in early intervention,” says Professor Andrew Smith, UWA. “In the first years there are a lot of personal issues that need resolving. There is a fine line between counselling and mentoring.” Yet Prof. Smith sees the mentoring program as having a significant influence on the low attrition rate for students. “Our dropout rate is incredibly low, .005 per cent. The reason for failure is only academic failure.” “In the higher years, students needs change—those needs are more related to assessment and clinical problems,” says Prof. Smith. That sets the scene for the requirements of students as they begin to move into the real world. “In a private practice we are required to have a lot more autonomy. While we were working in the public hospital we were supervised every step of the way,” says Dr Sivabalan. In the small country town of Nowra, there are no specialists, and over the past years Dr Sivabalan had a number of tricky moments particularly with crown or bridge work and the occasional difficult extraction. Yet with intense mentoring, particularly in his first two months, he rose to the occasion. “In the country there is a level of support and also the variety of treatments that we are exposed to that is arguably second to none,” said Dr Sivabalan. Over time his confidence grew and now the practice is reaping the rewards with Dr Sivabalan able to confidently take on almost any dentistry challenge. It’s a model now embedded in the strategic plan of Dental Corporation (DC), an agency that forms management partnerships with dentists across Australia. Each year DC offers graduates an opportunity to become part of the organisation with a placement in a successful practice. Even before they are placed, the principal is asked for an assurance that they will commit to passing on their intellectual property. “It was generally an accepted rule of thumb that a dentist
would close their doors and walk away when it was time, so their intellectual property was going out the door,” said Dr Ray Khouri, executive director of DC. “Mentoring is a way of imparting that intellectual property and adding value to the industry as a whole.” Once a young dentist is established, in most cases the benefits are phenomenal, with the graduate adding not only financial value but also being able to cover emergencies. Yet it’s not always a smooth road. There have been instances where the principal has been hesitant to impart knowledge, only seeing the graduate as a personal assistant, and allocating all those tasks that no-one else wants, such as sterilising and answering phones. “For Dental Corp this is not to be tolerated,” says Dr Khouri. “It’s nipped in the bud very quickly. Some practitioners see it as a gravy train just to have another staff member they can abuse.” But a keenness to learn is important to justify the investment of time by a mentor. “Meeting expectations of a principal dentists is major challenge,” says Dr Khouri. “When the kids are not seen as having the same attitude to work, for them it’s a case of ‘if you want me to help you, then give me a reason to; don’t just sit down and twiddle your thumbs’.” As with any system there are systemic issues, and time is often the biggest reason for a program unravelling. “We are living through a tight financial environment; universities are doing it tough,” says Lindsay. In recent times the number of students has doubled, but staff numbers have not. In 2010 its mentoring program offered intensive clinic and social support to all students. Yet as student enrolments increased, it was not seen as a priority, due to the weight of teaching demands, so the program was formally abandoned. Informally, it’s another story. “There is no other way to learn
Dr Ramesh Sivabalan
“My mentor recognised that I’d been taught the most current procedures and would often ask about, for example, the latest anti-biotic treatments.”
advanced clinical skills than to do things shoulder to shoulder because there is an enormous amount of role modelling and clinical training to know how you handle all situations,” says Dr Lindsay. It was Ramesh Sivabalan who found the ideal arrangement with his mentor, Dr Chan. “As a student, what you’ve been taught is the most current techniques and this may not resonate with the mentor who last attended the best practice workshop four years ago,” he says. “My mentor recognised that I’d been taught the most current procedures and would often ask about, for example, the latest anti-biotic treatments.” As the industry slowly wakes up, graduates are being warned from universities that for their professional development, they should find a practice that will provide guidance through mentoring and many are now heeding that advice.
Published on Mar 5, 2012