How to prioritize your own growth to become the best mentor for your mentee

When time is in short supply, consistent, intentional mentorship can easily fall down the priority list — but even before we allow someone else to fall down the list, we often let our own growth and professional development fall by the wayside in favor of work deliverables, meetings and deadlines.

At Aspen Dental, in keeping with our vision to break down barriers to care, we're committed to cultivating and growing the dental care workforce. As a result, we've decided that professional development through mentorship is non-negotiable. But as mentors, when we fail to prioritize our own growth and development, we're actually doing a disservice not only to ourselves but our current and future mentees. 

Here are three useful mindset practices to help you prioritize your own growth to become a more effective mentor for your mentee: 

"When I prioritize my own growth, I stay motivated and inspired to educate and innovate."

When I connect with newer doctors, it takes me back to my early days, fresh out of dental school — how ambitious I was, how intrigued to learn new things, how eager to make an impact, both for my patients and the industry at large. When I prioritize a conversation with an industry peer or colleague, attend a conference or spend dedicated time refining a new technique, I'm able to re-capture some of that feeling. In turn, I'm eager to share those learnings and experiences with my mentees and inspired to continue improving, innovating and discovering new ways to reach and serve doctors, teams and the communities they serve. 

"When I prioritize my own growth, I stay at the top of my game."

Especially in healthcare, staying at the top of your game is critical — when you introduce patients and their well-being into the mix, the stakes are that much higher. Clinical and technological innovation is always happening, so in addition to staying sharp on the basics, continuous learning is needed to leverage the most effective tools, resources and treatment options for your teams and patients.

At the same time, in order to maintain credibility with your mentee, you want to stay ahead of new trends to ensure your teaching and instruction is as relevant as possible. Especially for younger dentists just out of school who are eager to start practicing and apply new learnings from their education, it's important to come across as experienced, engaged and open to new ideas, while also teaching them how to evaluate whether something is an effective new tool or a passing trend with little impact on patient care. If you have a colleague or peer in the industry who is spearheading an innovative technique or technology, you could even consider setting up a conversation with that individual so that you and your mentee can learn together.

"When I prioritize my own growth, I set an important example."

In my experience, the mentors who have the biggest impact are highly successful themselves because they are doing the work to grow — and their mentees see firsthand the dedication, time and tact it takes to continue to excel, lead and make an impact.

Knowing that learning and development takes humility, intentionality, focus, energy and curiosity, how can we expect those practices in our mentees if we don't model them ourselves? On the flip side, continuously taking the posture of a student empowers you to identify and empathize with your mentee in a way that builds trust.

Do you believe that growth is important to be the best version of yourself? How do you continue to develop yourself professionally and personally?  I want to hear your stories and questions to help guide future conversations and columns right here in Becker's Dental + DSO Review

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Dr. Judge is the Chief Clinical Officer at Aspen Dental. 

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