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Leave the ladder down: My experience in mentorship

Jan. 12, 2023
AADOM 2022 Leave the Ladder Down award recipient Jane Walkley shares her mentorship journey.

I would like to thank the AADOM team for recognizing me as the recipient of the inaugural Leave the Ladder Down award. For those who were not at the 2022 conference, or perhaps there but not in the ballroom, I would like to share my story.

At the 2021 conference, our great AADOM friend Teresa Duncan read her “Letter to dental leaders.” She referenced her experience with the leaders in her career who left the ladder down for her to learn and grow in management; she asked us to do the same. Teresa also spoke about the importance of mentoring. Her speech became known as the “Ladder Letter” and soon hashtags were trending! In June of 2022, Teresa called me to say her speech resonated with so many that the AADOM team asked her to speak again at the 2022 conference. She asked me if I would be willing to speak about my mentoring experience. I said I’d be happy to, then spent my summer deciding what to say. Unbeknownst to me, a new award had been created to recognize an industry mentor. To say that I was surprised is an understatement.

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My story

I have had many mentors in my life; however, three stand out when it comes to dentistry. Forty-five years ago, when I was a 16-year-old junior in high school, I enrolled in a vocational dental assisting program that ran parallel with my high school classes. The instructors were a retired dentist and his long-time assistant. During the two-year program, I learned much about dentistry. Most important was what I learned about myself. Dr. Noel and Ms. Grove were the epitome of professionalism, both in the way they taught and how they carried themselves. What I didn’t realize at the moment was that they were amazing mentors. They loved dentistry and so did I. They nurtured my passion. I wanted to be them; I wanted to carry my 16-year-old self like them, and I did. It was a life-changing experience.

After graduation, I started my first dental assistant job. The dentist, Dr. Bonifant, was a young, new owner and I was a young, new dental assistant. We bonded as a team and learned together as we grew the practice. I eventually became the office manager. There was no AADOM, no consultants, and in the early years, no technology—only pegboards, rolodex, and dip tanks! I had to figure it out. The doctor trusted me with the practice; he encouraged me to do my best while navigating insurance, scheduling, and accounting. He taught me to never give up when times were trying. He would tell me to “Let a smile be your umbrella.” It was during this time that my 2-year-old daughter would say “Mommy, what datta do, datta do.” Words to live by, smile, and do what you have to do.

As the practice grew, I trained and elevated teams. You could say that I was holding the ladder down. Dr. Bonifant retired and I changed offices. I then moved to my current office. The doctor invested in my education and encouraged me to achieve my AADOM Mastership and Diplomate distinctions. He never hesitated to introduce me to new technology and procedures. I shared my knowledge with the team and helped them navigate dental office administration. Dr. Pesin is likely the only doctor who could also help me through a soft retirement while understanding my desire to remain connected.

Mentors for every stage

I share my story because mentors have an impact during every stage of our lives and careers. My mentors showed me how to mentor; how to be mentored, and how to share, teach, listen, and encourage. I paid attention to how they interacted with patients and how they carried themselves professionally. Mentoring has come easy to me. I am so fortunate. You are fortunate. AADOM has created a wonderful network of amazing professionals.

If you need a mentor, please reach out. Thank you again to the AADOM team for this award, and to Teresa Duncan for inspiring its creation. My hope is that it will continue for many years to come. I also want to thank Colleen Huff, my AADOM sister. She can really keep a secret!