When I qualified it seemed like the dark ages (1970 to be precise); we had very little information about NHS dental practice life after graduation – no vocational training, financial advice, relatively little support from colleagues, a smaller range of dental materials to use and few details about the regulatory side of dentistry.
The changes in my years in practice have been enormous – most very good (DF1 Training for example) but some in more recent years that have made day-to-day practice more difficult and worrying. A young dentist just embarking on their career has immediate money concerns and faces working under and being aware of all the NHS Rules and Regulations, the current NHS contract and in a lot of cases a fear of GDC involvement or litigation if there is a patient complaint.
I have developed an interest in mentoring colleagues through 21 years of service on Hertfordshire Local Dental Committee and 14 as Dental Practice Advisor for the county. This meant that I could talk to dentists at practice visits and inspections on a 1-to-1 basis. I was then the Dental Workforce Support Advisor for Health Education England in the east of England area. I have also been a BDA member since 1971 and served as Middlesex and Hertfordshire BDA Branch President. Since 2017 I attend a nationwide GDC handling Complaints Working Group which meet every 3 months and have been invited to join a GDC dental professional forum.
In my DWSA role I mentored some 80-90 practitioners who were facing disciplinary action at the GDC or NHS England or occasionally were going through VTE, now called Performers List Validation by Experience. I was in that post for over 10 years. In order to gain more experience and make my role more robust I gained a Certificate in Mentoring in Dentistry (Distinction) from the FGDPs (UK). I now mentor dentists on a private basis.
Mentoring has become routine in industry, finance and the medical profession for some time and is now playing an increasing part in dentistry. Dentists can feel very isolated; this can occur in a large corporate as well as a single surgery practice out in the wilds. It is important that there is someone for practitioners to turn to.
In the last 10 years I have encountered many dentists in different potential disciplinary situations as no two cases are the same. As some were facing a potential loss of registration and livelihood the sessions could be very stressful on occasions. I did have to wear two hats sometimes as the dentist may have come to me for answers. It could be difficult to separate my response as the dentist could see me as an advisor. It was therefore important to make the distinction between the mentoring and advisory roles.
My approach to mentoring is always an empathic one and involves a well- known mentoring pathway. As dentists we have developed effective listening strategies with patients and these can be applied in mentoring meetings. Sessions are mentee-led but the mentor must be able to challenge the mentee when appropriate. I use a mentoring contract with mentees and take official minutes which often form part of the defence bundle at GDC FtP hearings. These are shared with the mentee. Some dentists are referred to me via the indemnity organisations and a few through local PASS schemes.
I can envisage the importance of mentoring gaining momentum within the profession; DF1 trainers are encouraged to work with a buddy if possible. Many practices now have dentist as well as full staff meetings. There may come a time when we all are linked with a mentor, possibly in a mutual agreement.
One way of developing the mentoring process further could be for us to share mentoring experiences at meetings. We can all benefit and appreciate different approaches to certain situations.
I do find the work to be very rewarding and would like to develop this role further. There is a feeling of satisfaction when a mentee develops the insight required to fully commit to a remediation process which is then embedded into their practice life leading to an improvement in patient services. For the dentists that I usually see this can then hopefully result in the conclusion of any GDC investigation.