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Staying on course with a mentor: The history of mentoring in dentistry has evolved to encourage career development

Aug. 26, 2015
The history of mentoring has evolved to encourage career development

The history of mentoring has evolved to encourage career development

BY Chris Marie Harris, RDH, BS

An early written account of mentoring can be found in Homer's Odyssey (Butler, 1900/1944). Zeus's daughter Athena disguised herself and sent Odysseus on his first journey of wanderings as punishment for the desecration of her temple by one of the Greek warriors at Troy.1 However, Athena felt compelled to watch over Odysseus' son Telemachus since he would be absent from his son's life for an extended period of time.

During Odysseus' travels, Athena disguised herself as a friend and mentor of the family. A mentor during those times was considered a friend and advisor for the family or children.1 A mentor gave directions and guidance during the absence of the head of the household, which at the time were men. The relationship came to define the process of mentoring, when an older person counseled and guided a younger person. Although mentoring began with a "babysitter," it has evolved into a variety of programs where adults are recruited and trained to become mentors for youth and young professionals who need guidance and expertise.

Career Development Strategy

Mentoring has evolved into a professional activity, leading to trusted relationships and meaningful commitments. It has been redefined as a career development strategy for young professionals to learn a profession by shadowing a master artisan.

In the mid-1970s, many American educational institutions established their faculty and administrators as mentors in higher education and technology circles. Mentoring relationships range from informal collegial associations to formal agreements between experts and novices. Whether formal or informal, the objective of mentoring is to provide career advice for professional and personal enrichment. Mentors help their students develop skills and knowledge to maximize their professional potential. A successful mentoring relationship improves mentees' performance and helps them establish their goals. Another aspect of the mentor and mentee relationship is respect and confidentiality between the two.


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Mentors can be found in a variety of ways, from within a company to professional associations and organizations. There are also online resources and social networks such as LinkedIn to find a mentor.

Finding a good 'date'

The right mentor has been compared to finding a good date. It may take more than one date to learn whether individuals are compatible. A bad fit with a mentor can be compared to incompatibility. Well-matched mentors can connect their mentees to professional networks and job interviews, help them advance their careers, and encourage them to participate in community activities.

The first stage in developing a successful mentoring relationship is to identify, define, and articulate goals and motives. While a mentor must spend only a few hours a month to help the mentee, these relationships can evolve into lasting friendships. A mentor's influence on the mentee's decision-making and learning processes has positive consequences and educational benefits, and also provides the mentor with many learning opportunities.

Mentors serve as role models and future leaders in their profession, including in dental hygiene. Mentoring provides professional networking opportunities to learn from peers, and it is an excellent way to learn about professional opportunities. This knowledge can help define a person's growth on his or her professional path.

While finding a mentor is essential, it can be tricky to find one due to conflicting schedules and time constraints. There are certain things a mentor looks for in a mentee, especially a strong interest in career and an interest in learning. Mentees should demonstrate why they care about their professional journey.

Personal journey

I met my mentor when I wrote an article for one of our professional journals. I didn't know that she worked on the editorial board of the magazine. She saw qualities in my writing that she wanted to nurture, and she liked my CV that detailed my career path approach and my interest in public service.

Having a CV that details scholarly and professional accomplishments shows a mentor someone's willingness to learn and pursue the standards of professionalism in an organization. Remember that mentors look at people regarding why they should assist with someone's career.

Since I found my mentor, Dr. Claudine P. Drew, our relationship fosters a mutual respect and a two-way street of communication. We find it easy to bounce ideas and thoughts off each other. Dr. Drew encouraged me to become involved by becoming a continuing education speaker. This will enhance my CV and promote my professional development in networking and maintaining professional relationships.

It's been a year since I met Dr. Drew, and we have a strong relationship to this day. Her guidance and direction encourage me to pursue many different disciplines within my profession. I look forward to working with her and furthering our friendship both professionally and personally.

Dr. Drew gives organizational responsibilities to me in order to make sure I stay on task with my journey and my daily accomplishments. She says it is important to follow up with people within 48 hours after meeting them in order to establish professional relationships. This can be done through e-mail, phone, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

After working with Dr. Drew, I can now become a mentor and use the skills she taught me to encourage "newbies" in our profession and provide them with direction. RDH

Important questions to ask about mentoring relationsips

>> How does one know if the relationship is working?

>> Does the mentor encourage the mentee's goals and aspirations?

>> Does the mentor provide honest and constructive feedback?

>> Has the mentor assisted the mentee in developing self-awareness?

>> Does the mentor present challenges to the mentee to promote growth?

>> Does the mentor introduce the mentee to movers and shakers within the profession?

>> Does the mentor motivate the mentee to join professional organizations?

>> Finally, do the mentor and mentee listen to each other and find it easy to communicate?

Elizabeth Tronolone, RDH (top), was honnored as the 2015 Philips Sonicare/RDH Mentor of the Year in a ceremony at the American Dental Hygienists' Association's annual session in Nashville last June. Marilyn Cortell, RDH, was honored as a Mentor of Distinction. Tronolone is from Toledo, Ohio, while Cortell is from New York City. For a profile of the two award recipients, view an article about the 2015 Mentor of the Year award at

Chris Marie Harris, RDH, BS, has a certificate in dental hygiene from Howard University and a bachelor's degree from Thomas Edison State College. She is currently completing her master's degree at Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene. She has been practicing in the Washington, D.C., area since 1990. She has published articles on domestic violence for several publications. She can be contacted at [email protected].


1. The National Geographic. Accessed December 17, 2014.
2. Contrada-Axelrod Joan. The Boston Globe 22014.

http// Accessed December 24, 2015.

3. McCauley Stacy. RDH magazine 2014. Professional networking. Accessed December 27, 2014.