One of the greatest pieces of advice I received early in my career was to find a mentor. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have two: Drs. David “Swiz” Swiecinski and Tara Sexton.
I met Swiz and Tara during my third year of dental school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. They would eventually become two of my instructors during my final year. Swiz had a big influence on my early years as a dentist. Working with him on my first cases was an eye-opening experience. He encouraged me to think outside the box and realize there can be multiple ways to formulate a treatment plan for a single diagnosis.
Shadowing Swiz in his office was an unbelievable experience. Seeing him interact with his team and his patients showed me what it means to be a leader in the dental profession. Watching him practice and seeing his cases was my first experience witnessing true excellence in dentistry. His passionate, continuous commitment to his patients and the profession still inspires me to pursue excellence in dentistry every time I see a patient.
Tara has also been a monumental mentor in my career. I looked forward to every Friday morning during my final year of dental school, knowing that I’d have the opportunity to learn from her.
During dental school, Tara helped me understand how to think through a treatment plan – especially on complex anterior cases – and build the confidence in my skills as a new dentist. Her quick, witty humor with her students and patients always kept us at ease, especially during our competency exams and board exams. She always seems to be having fun when she is doing dentistry, mentoring students and interacting with patients. Her continuous support kept me motivated on the most trying days.
After dental school, Swiz, Tara and I continued to keep in touch as I started my career in dentistry. Even after school, they have been instrumental in helping me in my early years practicing dentistry on my own.
Whether it was a question about a case, ways to navigate the administrative aspects of being a dentist, or how to balance work and family, my mentors have always been there to offer their experienced opinions, discuss what has worked well for them, and be humble enough to acknowledge their own mistakes so that I don’t do the same. Their advice has helped me in countless instances. Although we live in three different states, we always keep in touch, chat multiple times a month and try to meet up whenever we can.
Since being stationed in Virginia as a dentist in the U.S. Army, I’ve been fortunate to find a Spear Study Club with a whole new group of mentors like Tara and Swiz. For three hours each month, I get the opportunity to learn invaluable clinical and practice management advice from my fellow club members. After each meeting, I leave having gathered a handful of new pearls on how to be a better clinician and leader as part of a successful interdisciplinary team.
Who are your mentors? How have they helped you in your career and throughout your life? If it’s been a while, reach out to thank them for getting you this far.
Don’t have a mentor yet? Check out your local Spear Study Clubs and dental societies to see if they have a mentorship program. You’d be surprised how many dentists in your community and in study clubs are interested in helping younger dentists as they start their journey in this wonderful profession.
Hopefully, you will find your Swiz and Tara, too.
Andy Janiga, D.M.D., is a contributor to Spear Digest. The opinions reflected in this article are Dr. Janiga's and do not specifically reflect those of the U.S. Army.