Helping you get from where you are, to where you want to be
The dictionary defines a mentor as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher” and “an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” For many professionals working in industries across the board, a mentor is someone who simply helped them get from where they were to where they wanted to be. For Dee Dee Meevasin, DMD, that person was her childhood dentist, Dr. James Saycich. During high school, Meevasin worked as an assistant to Saycich, whom she credits with encouraging her to become a dentist. “He was just so passionate about dentistry – he was fun and enthusiastic,” said Meevasin. “I loved seeing him interact with patients – he inspired me to become a dentist.”
Meevasin credits her mentor not only for encouraging her to pursue dentistry, but also for teaching her how to run a practice. While working as an assistant to Saycich for five years after graduating from dental school, Meevasin was responsible for doing her own insurance billing, managing her assistant, managing the front desk and doing payroll. “In addition, if I had a technical question Dr. Saycich would look at the X-rays and go through all of the steps with me,” she said. By 2011, Meevasin was ready to branch out on her own, which led her and her husband (who is also her office manager) to open Dee for Dentist in Las Vegas.
The importance of having a mentor is not limited to those in the dental field. Studies have shown that a mentor can make a significant impact on a person’s career. In fact, the results of a 2014 Gallup poll show that “graduates who had a professor or professors who care about them as a person – or had a mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams, and/or had an internship where they applied what they were learning – were twice as likely to be engaged with their work and thriving in their overall well-being.” The results were based on feedback from close to one million Americans of varying ages and with different educational backgrounds.
Finding a mentor can be challenging, and many students feel that they’re too busy studying to pass classes and secure their first jobs to put the effort in. But the payoff can be great. A mentor can help you with practice management, interpersonal skills and real world experience that is not normally taught in dental school. He or she can help motivate and inspire you to keep going when times are tough and help you to see the “big picture.” A mentor can help you discover the easiest, best way of doing things and can help you to avoid having to learn more lessons the hard way.
When seeking a mentor, it’s important to look for someone who has a good reputation among his or her peers and in the community. It also helps if he or she has a higher level of involvement in organized dentistry. Because you might face many new problems and challenges as a new dentist, it’s important to feel like you can contact your mentor at any time, which is why it helps if the mentor has the time and availability to work with you. For some, this means regular face-to-face meetings. For others, communication via email and few face-to-face interactions is more realistic.
For Bill Shattuck, DDS, an Oklahoma dentist who graduated from the University of Texas at Houston in 2012, his mentor was helpful when important career decisions needed to be made. After interviewing for an associate position at Kristen A. Burris DDS Family Dentistry in a small, rural town in Oklahoma, Shattuck sought the advice of the head of the restorative department at his alma mater for guidance. When Shattuck described the career opportunity that would allow him to work with the latest technology and to eventually purchase the practice from the doctor, who was planning to retire within the next 3-5 years, his mentor encouraged him to accept the position. “He said that I would be crazy not to take advantage of this opportunity,” recalls Shattuck – who later did take the job and has already signed papers to take over the practice in several years.
Although some dental students are lucky enough to find a mentor while in dental school, many others find a mentor after they’ve already begun their careers. If you’re seeking a mentor, there are a variety of resources to consider. You can start by talking to a dentist in your community, or contact your state dental association. By joining a professional organization, you’re more likely to be introduced to professionals who may be available to mentor you, or who may know someone who could serve as a mentor. Visit ADA.org for career mentoring web resources. Don’t forget to be open to possibilities and to meeting new people. A wise and trusted counselor could be waiting to help you find success – no matter how you define it.