“One of the most rewarding parts about this program is when the mentor becomes the mentee.”
These were the words of Dr. Clark Stanford, new Dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of two schools that participates in the CDS Mentorship Program (the other being Midwestern – Illinois). Students and faculty from both schools were in attendance at the CDS Midwinter meeting “Mentorship Luncheon”. This lunch event, sponsored by the Chicago Dental Society, was the first chance that many of the students from these schools got to meet their mentor face to face and shake his/her hand.
Dr. David Kumamoto runs the mentorship program at Midwestern University. Dr. Kumamoto is an adjunct professor at Midwestern, a former faculty member at UIC, and he maintains a general dentistry practice in Chicago. Dr. Kumamoto was involved in the program during his time at UIC, and carried the tradition with him to Midwestern. Currently, there are approximately 45 students at Midwestern and nearly 200 students at UIC enrolled in the mentorship program.
Interestingly, Dr. Kumamoto and his counterpart at UIC, Ms. Millie Mendez-Garcia (Director of Student Affairs for UIC Dental) work hard to make sure that students from each university are NOT paired with a faculty member mentor from his/her own university, but with someone from outside the familiar confines of their school.
Other than a possible conflict of interest, Ms. Mendez (who manually pairs every applicant student with a mentor herself), explained the reasoning behind this to me as such: “The faculty within the schools are supposed to serve as mentors to their own students.”
Ms. Mendez explained that any student of any year at either university can apply for a mentor, and that no students are turned away from the program. Both students and potential mentors are required to apply for the program through the CDS’ website. Ms. Mendez and her team then try to pair mentors with mentees who share similar interests or desired specialty areas. For instance, a student interested in Implantololgy might be paired with a local implant dentist, or a student interested in joining a group practice might be paired with a dentist who is a member of a group practice.
The purpose of this program, as alluded to earlier, is to help students discover what paths they want to pursue outside the bounds of the general dental school curriculum. Students also have the option to change their mentor at any time if their interests change, or if they find they have a better connection with a different practitioner. Mentors are not exclusive to one student either; the record for mentees currently stands at 4 at one time according to Ms. Mendez.
Outside of the official luncheon event at the CDS Midwinter, the mentor program does not hold official events. Once the relationship is formed, it is the responsibility of the mentor and the mentee to maintain it. Some of these relationships may last a professional lifetime, while others may not have the sticking power to continue outside of dental school. Nevertheless, the potential that the program offers new students just entering the profession to learn from a seasoned veteran who has already forged his of her own career path cannot be understated.