“Confidence, networking and mentoring; do we really need it in dentistry?”

Dr. Nicky Kilpatrick
Paediatric Dentist, Coach and Contributing Author

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been asking young practitioners what they consider to be the greatest challenge in the early stages of their career. The two most common responses are: confidence and networks. The two issues are, I believe, linked.

The challenge of confidence encompasses both the practice of clinical dentistry and mastery of the professional environment; staff, colleagues and patients. The test in becoming an independent practitioner lies, as someone asked recently, in ‘how can I build my skills with minimal risk?’ meaning how could he undertake procedures that he had performed either rarely or never before, in a safe and professional manner?

As dental practitioners, not only do we need to have confidence in our abilities but so too do our patients. Finding the best way to communicate or ‘the right language to use’ with our patients such that they have confidence in us is critical to establishing trust and building a successful practice.

A ‘mentor’ is:


“A brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction” (John C Crosby).

Transitioning from the structured and safe world of university to the ‘reality’ of work can be isolating in that it necessarily involves leaving behind the support systems offered by supervisors and fellow students from whom one seeks affirmation and feedback. So what ongoing professional support do you need right now and where/from whom can you get this?

Sure, there is a plethora of conferences, workshops, and websites offering ‘CPD’ content, but what is actually going to be most useful to you and deliver best value for money? What will help you become more confident and successful in the dental surgery which is, after all, where most of us spend a large part of our lives? Finding some answers would arguably enhance the chances of being professionally successful and personally satisfied – AND dare I say it ‘happier’.

Having someone more experienced and skilled with whom you can share your ‘warts and all’ experiences and talk freely and from who you can receive advice and support is incredibly important.

Looking back over the past 25 years, it is not the courses or lectures that I have attended that spring to mind, it is the people who have shown interest in me and my career who have really helped me develop in both competence and confidence. Such people have ‘mentored’ me.

A ‘mentor’ is “A brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction” (John C Crosby).

So who has mentored you?

  1. Write down a list of names of five people who have taken an interest in you/your development at ANY stage/aspect of your life Ie. school, home, work, leisure etc.
  2.  Alongside each name describe what was it that each person actually did for you that made a
    difference? In other words what made that person ‘special’?

These lists contribute to your ‘mentoring constellation’ – and likely include members of your family, lecturers, and bosses but may also include school and sports teachers, community workers and friends.

The one thing mentors have in common is that they care/are interested in you the individual and the relationship you have with them is built upon trust, respect and mutual belief. Our mentoring constellations can and should change and expand throughout life as our situation, experience and needs change.

Successful people are proactive in building these support networks and yet the skills to do this are rarely discussed, let alone taught.

So what kind of support would be helpful to you right now and how can you find it? I will tackle the latter question in my next article however for now I’d like you to think about your current learning needs and what sort of person/people you need to bring in to your constellation!

So a little more reflection for you:


  1. What are the three most pressing questions on your mind in relation to your career?
  2. What sort of person/people would be best placed to help you answer these?


Dr. Nicky Kilpatrick ACC BDS PhD, FDS RCPS FRACDS (Paeds) Grad Cert Ed Grad Dip Coach is probably better known as a paediatric dentist with 30 years clinical, academic and leadership experience in Australia and overseas. However following completion of a Graduate Diploma in Coaching in 2015, Nicky now also has a thriving coaching practice.  As an ICF Associate Certified Coach (www.icfaustralasia.com), she uses the framework and skills of coaching to not only facilitate individual professional and personal development but to also support broader cultural change.  Nicky is engaged by healthcare and academic organisations around the world, to support clinicians, academics, scientists and their managers to promote the healthy professional environments needed to optimise clinical, educational and research outcomes. For further information please see www.nickykilpatrick.com.au


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