Niki Keyhani: looking to the future

denplan next genNiki Keyhani discusses the lack of mentor support for young, female graduates and how she’s working with Denplan’s Next Gen Dental Group to shine light on the issue.

Niki Keyhani has known she wanted to be a dentist since the age of three. She aspired to follow in her mother’s footsteps. 

Since graduating from King’s College London in 2017, she’s attained a certificate in primary dental care. She completed a diploma in restorative dental practice at the Eastman Dental Institute where she obtained the Prestige Award. She has since begun her specialist training, an MClinDent in prosthodontics at KCLDI, and also set up her own practice aged 25.

She’s a passionate advocate for young dentists having mentors beyond their foundation year. Having support and someone to aspire to is what enabled Niki to pursue her dreams.

‘I’m in quite a unique position in the sense that I have my mother as my role model and mentor,’ says Niki. ‘It has enabled me to be where I am today. I can ask her as many questions as I need to and this allows me access to great support. 

‘The majority of today’s dental graduates are female. Unfortunately, this statistic isn’t reflected in their representation as practice principals in the UK. There are different challenges as a young, female dentist. It could be argued that tougher waters must be navigated to achieve similar levels of success. 

‘To have a mentor who has had a similar experience and understands that, is something you can’t put into words. More mentorship is needed to enable the growth of our professional careers.’ 

The reception area of Niki’s practice, Horsham Dental Studio 

Next Gen Dental Group

Invited by Catherine Rutland, clinical director of Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, Niki is one of nine members of Denplan’s newly launched ‘Next Gen Dental Group’, which had its second meeting in August.  

‘At Denplan, we are embarking on a process to raise the profile of private dentistry in policy making, being the voice of private dentists and improving the understanding of dentistry more generally within government,’ says Catherine. ‘Our new Next Gen Dental Group aims to provide the younger age group wth an opportunity to start shaping dentistry policy agenda from the beginning of their careers. 

‘We’re working collaboratively with the group to refine our one-year programme, but in its first two meetings, we’ve already had invaluable discussions about issues impacting the sector informed by their experiences and how we can support the next generation of dentists.’ 

From Niki’s perspective, adding to the discussions around key topics affecting younger dentists such as career mentoring, business and practice management and leadership has been a huge benefit.

‘I think it will make a massive change to have this platform. Here we can discuss topics that are so important to young dentists,’ she says. 

‘For me, it is also about showing young women that there are female dentists who are in positions of leadership, which is so vital within our profession. 

‘I can’t wait to see where the group goes and how we influence the profession and policy makers going forward.’

Mentorship’s importance

In her own experience, there are a lot of benefits of young dentists having a mentor and Niki is keen to work with Denplan’s Next Gen Dental Group to look at ways to create a structure lasting beyond the foundation training year.

‘Dentistry is a very scary thing to come into. When you first graduate, you get onto clinic, and your prime concern is clinical decisions – such as whether you should do the resin bonded bridge or the fixed bridge. Everything else beyond that can feel extremely overwhelming. 

‘A mentor can provide clinical support but is also crucial to a smooth transition of patient handling, aiding with administrative tasks and all-important reassurance. Alongside this, they can also help provide guidance on how to further your career and avoid easy mistakes. 

‘A mentor can not only help in supporting you with experience and guidance on what you should do, but also give your confidence a boost by letting you know that you’re on the right track. Learning in dentistry spans the length of your career and hence, mentorship and support shouldn’t end after the foundation year,’ says Niki.

Social media pressures young dentists

Discussion in the first Next Gen Dental Group meeting flagged younger dentists feeling more pressured to immediately open a practice once qualifying. Niki believes social media is a contributing factor to this.

‘At the moment, dentistry in the UK is really going through a process of change and social media has contributed to that. It acts as encouragement and inspiration for young dentists by demonstrating what they can achieve. It links a lot of dentists within the profession to each other. This can unify a profession historically characterised as isolating. 

‘Conversely, it has also become an environment where young dentists are able to look at an image on their phone at their fingertips and wonder why they aren’t achieving it straight away. There is this pressure to achieve quicker.

‘Although social media is great, it’s only a snapshot. While the before and after images look picture perfect,
it doesn’t show the hardships, the long hours and the work needed. Mistakes don’t make it onto social media – but they are what allow growth.

‘A lot of young dentists want to achieve that perfect social media image straight away, but don’t necessarily know the steps to achieve it or how to get there. That’s what mentoring provides. The connection from your start point to that dream and the vision you have,’ Niki says.

Supporting younger dentists

Niki feels especially passionate about young female dentists getting the right support. ‘Women in the dental profession still encounter bias, but they are infiltrating roles of leadership and by acting as mentors. They are able to provide valuable insight to young women on a similar path,’ she says.

While some elements come with experience, for Niki, mentorship is all about having a sounding board on how to deal with a wide range of issues faced by graduates.

‘The value of experience can’t be ignored. A mentor can provide recommendations and guidance, from something as simple as patient communication to considering the intricacies of running a business. 

‘As dentists, learning to deal with a myriad of obstacles on top of clinical work isn’t taught at university. The need for a mentor to support this learning curve postgraduation is a no-brainer.’

Niki is passionate about supporting young dentists

Own journey

Niki feels lucky to have had her mother, Dr Julia Noorallii, there for support. Especially when opening her practice last year. 

‘She’s an incredibly strong woman, which has a lot of benefits. Especially when it comes to opening a practice,’ says Niki. 

‘Whether it was administratively ensuring our documentation was correct, daily tasks such as staff management or clinical queries, she’s my inspiration, my motivation, and my mentor. 

‘Dentistry isn’t the most forgiving career and immediately you’re responsible. You are not only answering to patients, but you’re also answering to your nurse, your principal, the CQC, the NHS and a wealth of other organisations. 

‘Each task done well can act as an asset to your career propelling you forward. However, the same task rushed can end up a hinderance later. She helps me get it right the first time!

‘For me, having my mother as a mentor is invaluable. It would have been extremely more difficult if she wasn’t around to bounce ideas off and learn from her experience. I owe a lot of my success to my mother in so many ways.’

Learning from each other

She says young dentists graduating today are facing a lot of difficulties. Also, that there needs to be better understanding between all generations, ensuring the profession supports each other as a whole. 

‘It’s really about supporting young dentists in all elements of their career. 

‘There is more to dentistry than just clinical work, so support shouldn’t end there. 

‘Mentorship is about ensuring they are supported where possible with patient handling, running a business, opening a practice and the academic areas too. 

‘There are so many places you can take dentistry. Graduates should be mentored to comfortably feel they know how to pursue their desired route.

‘Young dentists have so much to offer more experienced professionals. In terms of their social media usage, their pursuit of latest techniques and more. 

‘Mostly, our passion and excitement about dentistry is great to harness and utilise. There is a lot to look forward to within our profession with the way we are heading.

‘There has been significant progression that shouldn’t go unnoticed, and the waters have begun to stir. But, in 2021, I don’t think that’s enough. 

‘We need to keep moving forward and, most importantly, making sure the whole industry is part of the movement,’ says Niki.   

Denplan’s Next Gen Dental Group meets every three months and is chaired by Catherine Rutland and Louis Mackenzie.

This article first ran in Dentistry magazine. Read the latest issue of Dentistry magazine here.

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