A new program matches DCG students with statewide mentors
Amara Altman can’t predict exactly what her career will look like when she graduates from The Dental College of Georgia in 2020.
But she has a much clearer picture now than she did a few months ago, thanks to a program she helped spearhead.
Altman partnered with Dahlia Levine (’18) in 2017 as they embarked on their second and fourth years of dental school, respectively, to match DCG students with mentors.
“Our entire school has 100 percent membership in the American Student Dental Association, and Dahlia and I were discussing how we could optimize the relationship between the student body and the association,” Altman recalls. “I’m also the Georgia Dental Association state association liaison, a position that Dahlia held before me, so I wanted to make the most of that role as well. Dahlia and I couldn’t think of a better platform than mentorship.”
The result is a program enabling DCG students to request a mentor—a dentist they want to emulate and learn from, ideally one who practices in an area in which they envision hanging their own shingle after they graduate. It was clear at the outset that the service was in high demand; over 100 students participated, each of whom matched with a participating mentor.
“The GDA sent a survey to dentists in the state last fall asking if they’d be willing to participate in the GDA Student Mentorship Program,” Altman says, “and the result was so gratifying.”
The students and mentors have kept in touch throughout the year, sending texts or emails, sharing phone calls or even arranging visits. Altman, for instance, has visited the practice of her mentor, Dr. Linda King, who practices general dentistry in Locust Grove, Georgia. King, who earned her dental degree from the Medical College of Virginia’s School of Dentistry in Richmond in 1994, began her career in Griffin, Georgia, and opened her practice, Sweet Spot Smiles, in 1997.
King, who has achieved mastership in the Academy of General Dentistry—an honor awarded to only 1 percent of practicing dentists—has a particularly expansive range of expertise to offer.
“I got involved in the Academy of General Dentistry very early in my career,” says King, “and it led me down the path of more and more [continuing] education. You never stop learning, particularly in dentistry.”
In addition to her technical and scientific expertise, she also shares with Altman her passion for helping others.
“I wanted to be a dentist because I saw how dentistry changed my father’s life,” says King. “He had big spaces between his teeth and wore a long mustache to cover his mouth. When I was in high school, he finally went to a dentist. Not only was his high blood pressure diagnosed during the visit, but he came home with a treatment plan to have his teeth corrected. When he got healthy, he became a different person. It was amazing.”
King knew she and Altman would be a good fit when she detected in the student a similar dedication to serving others, as well as a similar commitment to organized dentistry. “It’s important to advocate for your profession,” says King, “and I was impressed by Amara’s involvement. Students have a voice, and they need to use it to make sure our profession maintains the highest possible standards. And once you graduate, it’s very important to stay connected to other dentists. I advise students to get involved early. We’re not only working hard for today’s dentists and patients, we’re also looking out for the next generation.”
Once she and Altman were paired, she invited the student to shadow her in her office.
“I really enjoyed visiting her,” says Altman, “and we’ve stayed in touch throughout the year.”
Adds King, “It was important to me to get a sense of her goals and expectations. I want to help her as much as I can, and it’s exciting for me to teach her about different treatment options.”
Says Altman, “As a general dentist, Dr. King does a broad range of procedures, so there are so many things she can teach me about. Whenever she has an interesting case or wants to share information about what she’s dealing with, she’ll send me a text or email.”
Other students report similar experiences, noting the luxury of being able to pick their mentors’ brains as they navigate their way through the dental curriculum.
DCG Associate Dean Carole Hanes calls it a match made in heaven. “There’s so much expertise out there, and this is an outstanding way to tap into it,” she says. “Many of the participating dentists are also DCG alumni, so this kind of relationship really brings things full circle. They’re helping the students and their alma mater while the students benefit from their advice and counsel.”
Then, of course, there are the dentists like Dr. King who earned their dental degrees elsewhere but are still tremendously supportive of the state’s only dental school and want to do anything possible to help DCG students succeed, Hanes says.
She adds, “And the mentorship program is particularly helpful to dentists who might be seeking associates in the near future. The end result is better dentistry for the state of Georgia, and any other place where these students might eventually practice.”
Altman, who grew up in Woodstock, Georgia, learned the importance of mentoring early on. “I always knew I wanted to help people, so I started shadowing dentists in high school,” she says. “The exposure made me realize dentistry was the right track to take. I really enjoyed what I observed the dentists doing, and I knew it would be a good fit for me.”
She majored in biology and psychology at the University of Georgia, knowing her ultimate destination was dental school. And choosing DCG, she says, was a no-brainer. “We have preclinical requirements that ensure we’ll be well-prepared for practice,” she says, also citing resources such as a state-of-the-art learning facility and a faculty always prepared to go the extra mile.
Indeed, Hanes’ assistance getting the mentoring program off the ground is typical of the faculty’s above-and-beyond approach to education, says Altman.
She is also gratified that the program offers extra exposure to the GDA, which ideally will provide extra inspiration for students to stay involved in organized dentistry throughout their careers. The biggest challenge, Altman acknowledges, is time. “Dental school is tremendously time-consuming,” she says. “We’re extremely busy, so it’s hard to find time to squeeze extra things in.”
But today’s technology, she says, helps grease the wheels—for instance, by enabling a quick FaceTime call.
Hanes agrees. “We look for every opportunity we can to optimize our students’ experience, and the mentoring program really expands their horizons,” she says.
Considering the success of the first year of the program, she has glowing expectations for the coming years. So does Altman, who is thrilled she’ll have another couple of years to take advantage of it. “It’s been great,” she says. “This was the first year, so we spent some time trying to finalize details, but we’re really pleased with how it’s going. Our push now is getting the incoming freshmen involved as soon as possible. They’re really eager to get involved.”