A great patient experience starts with supportive mentorship

A good mentor can not only teach you new skills and guide you through difficult cases but can also set your career on the right track. I understand this on a deeply personal level; when I first started with Aspen Dental two years after graduating from dental school, I was immediately overwhelmed. The volume of patients was like nothing I'd seen before, and I wasn't sure I had what it took.

Fortunately, the mentorship I received from my practice owner, Dongho Kim, DMD, completely changed my outlook and, subsequently, my entire career path. Dr. Kim was kind and supportive, but that wasn't all. He gave me hands-on training, never judged me and made it easy for me to learn from him.

Working with Dr. Kim allowed me to see what great mentorship can really do, and now I pass on what I've learned to my own mentees even as I continue to seek out additional mentors of my own. Over the years, I've built my own mentorship philosophy which helps me to both grow in my own career and help others grow in theirs.

Don't judge, just help

Especially as a new graduate, it can be terrifying to be faced with a difficult patient case without the support of a more experienced doctor behind you. When newer dentists don't have someone they can go to with questions, it's easy to make mistakes — and in the dental field, every mistake means a potentially uncomfortable experience for a patient.

Preventing that situation is simple: Don't judge your mentees, just help them when they need it.

When I was working under Dr. Kim, I made sure to shadow him as much as possible so I could learn from him. He never judged me, and he was always available to offer support. I approach my own associates the same way: We're equals, and I'm here to help you when and where I can.

In addition to avoiding patient discomfort, supporting newer dentists can also help them grow more rapidly in their careers. When they know they have an experienced dentist behind them, new graduates can approach unfamiliar techniques with more confidence, enhance their skill sets and make fewer mistakes. 

Learn from your mentees, too

New dental techniques and technologies are constantly emerging, and the procedures we learned in dental school may have changed since we were introduced to them. New graduates have different perspectives on dentistry, and ignoring their input is a huge missed opportunity.

When you treat your mentees as equals instead of subordinates, you open up the door to a reciprocal relationship. Your mentees will learn from you, but you also have the chance to learn from them, which is especially valuable as the dental industry continues to evolve.

Don't assume you know everything

As dentists, we should be lifelong learners. I am always trying to improve my skills and push myself to the next level, which often means seeking out people within my network who know more than I do. If you think you know it all, you never give yourself the chance to grow.

As I advance in my career, I still make use of mentors. Over the years, I've received excellent guidance on managing clinics, increasing profitability, improving patient satisfaction and keeping my staff happy. I can then pass down everything I learn from those who have more experience than me to my own mentees. Cultivating that culture of mentorship reciprocity is a rising tide that lifts all boats. As a result, not only do I feel more fulfilled in my own career, but my associates, staff and patients all have excellent experiences, too.

It all starts with a great office culture

When you have a welcoming, supportive and collaborative office culture, you can make every person who walks through the doors of your clinic feel comfortable, including patients. We train our associates to be efficient, confident and communicative, because ultimately, we want the dental office to be a comfortable place for patients instead of a frightening one.

When we all work together, don't judge each other and see every interaction as a learning opportunity, we are able to provide high-quality dental care and give back to the communities we care about in a way that makes a huge difference in people's lives.

An excellent dental experience starts with mentorship, but everything always comes back to the patient.


Laura Ortega, DMD, is an Aspen Dental practice owner in Florida. A proud Cuban, she loves being able to give back to her local Spanish-speaking community by offering high-quality dental care to those who need it most. Outside of dentistry, she loves salsa dancing, trips to the beach and spending time with family.

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