How to Make the Most of a Mentoring Relationship

  • by Eric S. Studley, DDS, and Ivy D. Peltz, DDS, MSEd, PhD, MAGD
  • May 30, 2023
5-30-23_Mentor_BWhen we ask new dentists what they’re hoping to gain from their experiences as associate dentists, most mention mentorship as a priority. While new dentists typically desire mentors, not all seasoned professionals step up to the task.  

Some experienced dentists may feel too busy to nurture a young colleague. Some may find the request to be an imposition. Some may feel they have nothing to offer. Most of these feelings arise from the perception that a mentoring relationship is simply another caregiving position. We would like to suggest that a mentoring relationship can work to the advantage of both mentor and mentee.  

For the mentee, the benefits are obvious. You have a trusted adviser who can guide you and help you navigate your career by virtue of their advanced experience in the dental profession. For the mentor, you have the equally obvious opportunity to learn by teaching, but you may also get to know a junior colleague who is interested in your stories and may have something worthwhile to contribute. In areas such as marketing, finance and technology, the mentor may become the mentee.  

So, for both mentors and mentees — how can you find and cultivate a mutually beneficial mentor-mentee relationship?  

1. Figure out who you want. What are the characteristics that you would appreciate? Are you looking for a cheerleader who will support you without question? Or do you prefer someone who challenges your beliefs? Do you need someone who shares your ethical core? Are you looking for a person with similar professional goals? Make a list of the qualities that are most important to you.  

2. Get busy. Whether your style is in-person or virtual, you can meet other dental professionals easily. Attend local, state and national meetings and conferences. Check in with your alumni association — some have mentorship programs. Join professional chat groups on social media. Ask faculty and attendings to provide introductions.  

3. Get to know the person. Ideally, a mentoring relationship will be long-lasting. Since you will spend precious time with each other, it’s best to know if this is a person you genuinely like, admire and enjoy.   

4. Make the request. Once you think you found someone, you must find out if they’re willing and able. Take a deep breath — you can do it! (If you must, put your request in writing.)  

5. Be respectful. Remember that your mentor-mentee relationship is an elective arrangement, so it needs to remain as stress-free as possible. To make sure both mentor and mentee are gaining from the relationship, set clear, attainable goals with measurable results. Start slowly — your first goal can be to meet again in one month. Keep your appointments, and remain committed to your mutual professional growth and development.   

6. Express your gratitude. Feel free to ask reasonable favors of each other, but always remember to thank each other, even if only for participating in the mentoring relationship.   

7. Provide constructive feedback. If you are to assist each other in professional growth, you will need to find a way to provide feedback without hurt. Make sure your feedback is welcome, and then remain specific and objective. Talk about how the behavior affected you and what would be required to improve your experience in the future.   

8. Remain open. It’s easy to take a defensive stance when receiving feedback. Understand that your mentor-mentee relationship is designed for your mutual development and that humans are not always aware of how we are perceived. Listen to the feedback provided, try it on for size to see if it fits, and make any necessary changes to improve.  

9. Create ease. Look for ways to help enhance your mentor’s or mentee’s professional life and create growth opportunities. Make sure you’re not demanding too much time. Keep your attitude positive and your energy level high. 

10. Behave yourself. Whether mentor or mentee, remember that you are trying to cultivate a close professional relationship. While you should take an interest in each other’s lives, it is not necessary to share all your personal experiences and habits. Make sure you always maintain appropriate boundaries and that you only exhibit professional behavior, no matter the circumstance.  

Like any relationship, a mentoring relationship must be valuable to each partner to be sustainable. But it also requires work. However, a successful mentoring relationship can provide an invaluable means of support in an otherwise increasingly confusing and isolating world.  

The need for mentorship in the dental profession is greater now than ever. Whether you label the need “generational” or blame it on learning voids created by the COVID-19 pandemic, new dentists rely on those in the profession to guide them and help establish themselves. And, with dental technology advancing quickly, seasoned dentists require updating that can easily be provided by their junior colleagues.   

Mentorship does matter, indeed. 

Eric S. Studley, DDS, is the president and CEO of Eric S. Studley & Associates, an insurance brokerage company specializing in the insurance and financial needs of dentists. Ivy D. Peltz, DDS, MSEd, PhD, MAGD, is retired from private practice in New York City. They are both retired from academic positions at the New York University College of Dentistry. Together, they co-founded Doccupations, the dental career services component of Eric S. Studley & Associates. To comment on this article, email