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Mentorship in Nursing


Developing a relationship with someone who has experience in your industry can help you develop essential skills. And serving as a mentor to a colleague can be professionally and personally rewarding. For National Nurses Week, we asked three nursing leaders about the role mentors played in their own careers.

What role have mentors played in your career? How have your mentors "inspired, innovated and influenced" you?

Kristi Dalby

Kristi Dalby, Lead Faculty for Undergraduate Nursing - Mentors have played an incredible role in shaping my career as a nurse and a nurse educator. Early in my career, I chose to specialize in intensive care, which is typically a fast-paced, dynamic healthcare environment. My mentors in the ICU setting were experienced nurses, well-versed in the unique responsibilities of a critical care nurse. These mentors were excellent at providing thoughtful feedback, guidance, and support as I learned to navigate the complex patient care environment.

As a nurse educator, I have had several mentors who have inspired and influenced my career trajectory. The transition from nurse clinician to nurse educator can be difficult, but I have been fortunate enough to have mentors who have served as wonderful role models for the profession, displaying collegial behavior with colleagues and students and emphasizing the importance of lifelong learning and continued scholarship.

Nicholas Carte, Graduate Lead Faculty Nursing and Health Professions - A mentor has been an invaluable asset to me throughout my career. First, as a staff nurse through the beginning years in nursing education, and advancing my education in nursing, each mentor has inspired to seek out knowledge. My mentors taught me to be an innovative thinker, guided me through career choices and paths. A trusting and therapeutic relationship has been the theme for my mentors. They have served as my go-to person with work-related questions and what I should seek next in my professional career. One of my lifelong mentors is a former boss, and I often communicate with her weekly about both professional and personal concerns. For me, a mentor has been the guiding light, a counselor, a teacher and another professional; who loves the nursing profession and has passion see our profession grow.

Margaret Moriarty-Litz, Chief Nurse Administrator - I have been fortunate to have had several significant mentors within my career. These nurses have been like coaches and cheerleaders throughout my professional development. Mentors utilize their capacity to support and guide both within the work environment and beyond. One significant mentor provided opportunities for me within nursing education which has led me to the role I am in today.

Margaret Moriarty-Litz

(One mentor) I worked with ... in a clinical setting then later reconnected at a school of nursing. (She) was the administrator of the program at the time. She sent me to conferences for skill development, supported my formal education, and allowed me to shadow other faculty before beginning to teach on my own. These strategies helped me to realize my passion for nursing education as a specialty. (My mentor) provided opportunities for learning about curriculum development, accreditation standards and regulation. She also showed me how to reach out and help to support other programs when the outcomes impacted student success. (She) inspired me when she developed a teach-out plan for a nursing program which was closing and left no ability for students to complete their education. She was instrumental in successfully helping over 40 students graduate. My mentor demonstrated leadership skills during this process.

Michelle O'Neal, Clinical Faculty for Nursing Programs - I would like to share my personal "mentor moment" while a new faculty member at SNHU.

Since starting at SNHU in January, my mentor, Kristi, has been there to help me navigate the organization and culture. There is no insignificant or difficult question for her to respond with a prompt reply. She meets me with a smile and laugh each week and guides my progress for success. Leaders recognize her special qualities, and indeed she is a leader. There are value and wisdom in the mentor role, but Kristi is one of a kind special who sets the bar high and provides a relaxing atmosphere. Kristi can make a stressful situation seem pedestrian. And as I have seen first-hand, her special attributes are not limited to mentoring. She is moving through her educational challenges without hesitation showing us the way to discover who we are. 

I would like to add that a mentor's positive attitude helps to inspire even when self-doubt creeps into one's brain; providing helpful resources and promoting knowledge transfer, sparks innovation in the mentee; but most importantly, the positive influence one experiences from an exceptional mentor will stay with that nurse forever.

Why is it important for young nurses to learn from a mentor(s), and for more experienced nurses to offer their insight to younger colleagues?

Michelle O'NealKD: The value of mentorship can be captured in Patricia Benner's nursing theory of skill acquisition, "From Novice to Expert." The theory addresses the five stages of clinical competence, beginning with novice and ending with expert. Nurses at the expert stage of clinical competence are able to use their experiential knowledge, in addition to other resources, to make clinical decisions. New nurses do not have this experiential knowledge and are often focused on the tasks associated with clinical care, at the expense of seeing the big picture of the patient's needs. Expert nurses, with their extensive experience and experiential knowledge of nursing practice, serve as excellent mentors and role models for novice nurses. Expert nurse mentors are able to provide additional context and insight regarding the patient care experience and the nurse's role, which are invaluable to newer nurses as they continue to learn and develop their practice.

NC: As nursing is seeing another shortage, mentoring to the professional for young nurses is so very important to avoid our new nurses from tripping over the welcome mat on their way out of the profession. One in five young nurses leaves the profession after one year. Thus, mentoring to the profession is key and should include experienced nurses who can bridge young nurses into what is best practices, orient them to the profession; and serve as teachers and counselors during this transition into professional practice. The old saying that "nurses eat our young" is slowly fading away. Our experienced nurses are understanding the importance of mentoring, which is very exciting.

MML: (The) nursing and the healthcare environment is much more complex for novice nurses starting out in their careers. Students are experiencing greater stressors in life.

I feel that a mentor will provide emotional support when nurses are faced with difficult clinical situations. The mentor may be able to share coping strategies to continue working through these challenges.

In addition, mentors act as role models for nurses beginning their careers. I think that investing in an organization or association will help nurses develop a professional identity which is critical for their careers. These organizations provide conferences for ongoing education and networking.

Nicholas CarteFinally, mentors can help advise newer nurses regarding formal education. The goal is to encourage degree attainment to the highest level of achievement. Then nurses will be prepared for leadership positions within the profession.

MO: Sometimes mentors are not older but may have more experience in the organization, like in the example above provided. However, in many cases, the more experienced nurse is the mentor to the younger mentee. The importance of this relationship is not only the knowledge transferred from one to the other but the lasting relationship between the two. A mentor is a guide to the mentee and is there to promote and encourage their growth. This relationship is telling about the nursing professionals who dedicate their time to mentor. Nurses are compassionate by nature; mentors are an extension of this trait to devote their time to the perpetuation of the profession.

Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.

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