Gadsden, Ala. — It’s safe to say that joining Dr. Lew Mitchell’s dental practice in Gadsden, Alabama, in 2011, was one of the best decisions Dr. Kyle Battles ever made.
Dr. Mitchell ended up becoming Dr. Battles’ mentor, a relationship that continues to this day.
“Mentoring creates lifetime connections,” said Dr. Mitchell, former vice president of the ADA. “The process of mentoring is positive therapy for mentors as well as for those being mentored.”
Mentorship meant the world to Dr. Battles right after graduating from dental school.
“My biggest challenge was overcoming the burden of student debt,” Dr. Battles said. “Dr. Mitchell helped me come up with a game plan to tackle the debt. He was also instrumental in helping me consolidate my loans and acquire a better interest rate.”
This proved successful as Dr. Battles eliminated his student debt seven years after graduation. Later in his career, when he started his own practice, Dr. Battles relied on Dr. Mitchell to navigate what Dr. Battles called his “new adventures.”
“There is a lot that goes into running a successful dental practice and Dr. Mitchell was and still is a great advisor for me,” he said. “Dentistry, the first couple of years, will be very humbling,” he said.
Dr. Battles stressed how important it is to have a network of friends and colleagues — and a mentor — to help you through that time of uncertainty. “Mentoring, to me, is, when one person gives without the expectation of receiving anything in return and someone who works with you side by side to help you achieve success.”
This has certainly been Dr. Mitchell’s philosophy. “Once you have the connection, it lasts forever,” he said.
And, as Dr. Colleen Greene discovered, you don’t have to be far into your career to start to mentor others.
Dr. Nathaniel Cook graduated from Marquette University’s School of Dentistry in 2016 and finished a residency at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin last year. While there, he was mentored by Dr. Greene, a pediatric dentist and member of the ADA New Dentist Committee.
Dr. Greene said that mentoring is an important role, even for new dentists with a little experience under their belts.
“As a new dentist, I understand the stress that comes with your first few years out of school,” said Dr. Greene, who graduated from dental school in 2013. “It can be hard to set professional goals or network in a new community.
Connecting with other new dentists a few years ahead of you is a great way to learn how people are working to their strengths and interests clinically and in the profession as a whole.”
Dr. Cook, a newly practicing pediatric dentist who splits his time in a nonprofit dental clinic and as faculty in a pediatric dental residency program in Minneapolis, said, “Mentorship is a continuous process, and there are always more opportunities to connect with and learn from others with more experience. Through earnest intention, you can learn invaluable lessons and build meaningful relationships.”
Another new dentist, Dr. Marina Sereda, of Toms River, New Jersey, praised Dr. Thomas Bench, also of Toms River, saying he was “the greatest mentor I could have ever asked for.”
Dr. Sereda, who joined his practice shortly after graduating from dental school, said, “In the beginning he never tired of looking at every single crown prep impression, answering hundreds of questions, checking my preps, discussing cases and treatment planning. He would assist me in extracting teeth and basically hold my hand through the difficult process of learning the profession of dentistry. I feel so grateful that I found him and over the years we have developed an amazing professional relationship. I have learned a great deal about dentistry but being only five years out I still have a lot to learn. Although these days it’s more rare, I still ask Tom’s opinion on the bigger cases and large treatment plans. I find it fun to gain a different take on a case. In dentistry there are many ways to accomplish the same goal of restoring form and function to a patient. I find that brainstorming with a colleague is the best way to come up with the best solution.”
Dr. Sereda looks forward to mentoring a fellow dentist if the opportunity presents itself.
“I strongly encourage anyone considering becoming a mentor to please do it,” she said. “Many times when I’ve thanked Tom for everything he’s taught me, his response has been that he enjoyed helping and that for him it was fulfilling. As for me, I cannot express my gratitude enough. It is because of an incredible mentor that I was able to gain confidence and to advance in my career.”