If you ask any student nurse to name a person who has made a significant impact on his or her career, chances are you will hear the name of a nursing mentor. Mentors – experienced nurses who form collaborative, educational relationships with fellow nurses – help shape not only the young nurses they advise, but also the nursing industry at large.
According to a 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine, mentoring helps increase the readiness of the workforce, retain skilled nurses and improve overall patient care. Mentors and mentees achieve this positive change together by combining new skills and new thinking with time-tested experience and expertise. One of the most crucial roles that a mentor plays is to help up-and-coming nurses find their passions and feel empowered to make a difference.
“We need to be open to different ways of thinking because it isn’t our job to make new nurses think like us. Instead, we should provide insight and create space for incoming nurses to be successful at changing the profession for the better,” said Mary Terhaar, DNSc, CNS, RN, Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program and Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, Md. “You don’t put new wine in old skins. I love using that as a metaphor for a good mentor’s role in shaping future nurses. Mentorship isn’t about having all of the right answers for another person – it is about posing the right questions and providing opportunities for young nurses to learn and grow.”
A good nurse mentor will often face challenges in the workplace that will require him or her to go above and beyond what is typically expected from day-to-day responsibilities. According to Terhaar, approaching this call-to-action with a positive attitude is what truly makes a mentor unique.
“Being a committed mentor requires patience and hard work. As a nurse, it is so easy to get caught up in day-to-day operations – whether it be in the office or by the bedside – so that mentoring others can become an afterthought,” said Terhaar. “Some of the strongest nursing leaders are those who pay attention to staff development in the midst of their busy schedules.”
While the benefits of mentorship to the mentee and the profession may be apparent, there are personal benefits to those who become mentors as well. In fact, according to Terhaar, the most gratifying aspect of mentoring is working with young nurses with fresh faces who have the passion for nursing but have not yet developed the ability to do something big.
“Being able to witness a student learn new skills and become successful gives me great pride – it’s truly amazing to see someone realize their potential and to take part in that development,” said Terhaar. “Ultimately nursing is about making things better for patients, yet some nurses tend to focus on one patient at a time as they start out in their career. As they develop their skills, however, many nurses will begin to expand their focus to make a difference for entire populations of patients. That is what I try to help nurses do, and watching that transition is extremely satisfying to me.”
Formal mentoring programs can also be helpful in educating and preparing nurses post-graduation. In fact, there are a number of nursing programs that focus on mentoring emerging nurses and nurse faculty, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars (NSF) program. This program helps advance future leaders in academic nursing through career development, and places a large focus on mentorship and leadership training for young faculty.
“Becoming a mentor is an important way to help student nurses while they are in school, but can also be helpful for those that are in their first practice job,” said Angela Barron McBride, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Chair of the National Advisory Committee of the RWJF NSF program. “Mentors are needed to help nurses at all levels, whether it is to help students find an appropriate specialty, or to assist faculty with writing grant proposals. One of the things we want to see more of is a new slate of mentoring programs in schools and workplaces across the country – having those established mentoring programs can help older and younger nurses alike.”
To learn more about how you can become a more effective nurse mentor, visit www.nursetogether.com.