Sponsored by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
Whether you’re a new nurse, just transitioning to a specialty area, or a knowledgeable nurse seeking to share your wisdom, mentoring in nursing is invaluable for both mentors and mentees.
Many may consider mentoring in nursing to be synonymous with a preceptorship. While preceptorships share similarities with nurse mentorships, they’re vastly different.
Precepting is a method used to orient nurses into the work environment through teaching and clinical evaluation. These relationships are for a limited time and during specific work hours. Mentorships, on the other hand, are collaborative efforts intended to support nurses’ professional and personal development.
Mentoring in nursing can also be formal or informal depending on the setting or relationship between mentor and mentee. Formal mentorships through a healthcare facility or organization may match participants based on certain criteria, such as specialty area or license type and include set objectives and guidelines (e.g., requirements for meetings frequency or an outline of goals). Informal mentorships can occur when a nurse approaches a senior colleague, leader, or friend to create this partnership. Mentors and mentees can collaborate at any point without a formal agreement.
Becoming a nurse mentor
Before becoming a nurse mentor, first assess if a mentorship is the right choice for you by asking yourself:
- What do I hope to gain from a mentoring a nurse?
- Do I have time to commit to another person?
- Am I empathetic with my colleagues?
- Do others consider me a good leader?
- Can I be transparent and open-minded?
As a mentor, you must be able to jump into different roles such as educator, leader, and friend to support your mentee. You also must exhibit certain qualities and skills, including leadership experience, enthusiasm, willingness, and effective communication and listening. These traits are essential in making the collaboration successful.
“Nurses are natural leaders, and [we] love to support and pour into the ones closest to us,” said Vince Baiera, BSN, Partner in Post-Acute Care at Relias and a former nurse mentor. “We’ve all been beginners in our career, and someone was there to help us and give us direction.” Remembering the influence that former nurse leaders, colleagues, and mentors had on your career can help as you embark on your mentoring journey.
In your mentor role, you’ll have many responsibilities, including providing clinical education, offering career guidance, and supporting mentees through challenging situations. All functions of a nurse mentor are significant. However, one of the most critical responsibilities is modeling professionalism and leadership. “Mentoring others allows you to be the ‘bridge’ to help others advance in their career and pay it forward,” said Baiera, highlighting the opportunity that mentors have to shape and impact future nurse leaders.
At the start, you should set the goals both you and your mentee want to achieve and commit to a regular cadence of contact. By identifying these objectives, you may find that you share similar insights, or you have aspirations that align. Your targets as a mentor could be coaching an early career nurse, nurturing leadership skills in new nurse leaders, or giving back to the profession in some way.
It’s also important for you to learn and grow from this experience as well. Chris Recinos, PhD, RN, FNP, NEA-BC, a nurse mentor based in Los Angeles, California, and Founder of the Nurse Leader Network, emphasized, “A mentorship has to 100% be a give and take on the part of the mentor and mentee. If the mentor isn’t learning something from the mentee, oftentimes the mentorship does not last very long.” What you learn can be anything from new perspectives to ways you can improve yourself as a leader or mentor, she suggested.
Cara Lunsford, RN, Vice President of Community at Relias, had a similar opinion on the importance of sharing and receiving knowledge.
“As seasoned nurses, we know that it’s important to pay it forward because these nurses will be working alongside us for years to come, and perhaps, someday, they’ll be taking care of us or our loved ones,” she said.
Being a mentee
Mentoring in nursing allows mentees to expand their skill sets and clinical knowledge, network with colleagues, and feel supported in their role. To find a mentor, you can participate in a formal mentoring program or talk to your preceptor, colleagues, or nurse leaders about connections or mentorships with them.
Sometimes finding a mentor can be a challenge in settings like rural facilities or smaller organizations. In these situations, there are options available online, such as the Nurse.com app or the American Nurse Association’s (ANA) Mentoring Program, a virtual program that nurses with shared interests, specialties, or aspirations can use to connect.
“It’s helpful for mentees to think about the goals they have for the mentoring relationship and come prepared with some tangible outcomes they hope to achieve,” said Joni Dirks, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, CCRN-K, a nurse mentor based in Medical Lake, Washington.
Your objectives may be to improve your clinical skill set, expand your network, or become a nurse leader.
By identifying and sharing your ambitions, you and your mentor will be able to create and follow a plan at the onset. Dirks expressed that you should also share a “willingness to meet and actively engage in discussion” with your mentor. As previously mentioned, being committed to the plan and sticking to a structured meeting schedule are integral parts of the constructs of a successful mentoring outcome.
And never underestimate the value of transparency and being open to criticism. As a mentee, sharing your perspective, ideas, and feelings with your mentor is vital, especially if you feel your needs aren’t being met. Being prepared to give and receive feedback will ultimately strengthen the dynamic.
Benefits for mentees
Baiera touched on the extensive list of benefits for mentees when paired with the right mentor. “For the mentee, it’s going to help you navigate the workplace and pick up skills and knowhow to help you do your job better,” he said. “Additionally, you’ll have someone to ask questions to and bounce ideas off of who has been there and done it.” He added that mentees should be proud and excited to have a mentor because their mentors have an abundance of knowledge and are looking to share it.
These collaborations also allow you to enhance your clinical knowledge and professional skills or help you identify ways to address personal matters like burnout or maintaining work-life balance, according to Dirks.
Having a mentor helps you identify and express what you really want — personally or professionally — and as you realize your ambitions and advance in your career, your mentor will be there to celebrate with you.
Benefits for mentors
Mentors have an impact on the nursing profession as well as patient care. They provide nurse mentees with more support and more education, and this translates into a thriving workforce that improves the safety and care environment that patients experience.
“Serving as a mentor provides experienced nurses with an opportunity to ‘give back’ to their profession by fostering the development of their peers,” Dirks said. Interactions with your mentee can also be energizing and offer a fresh perspective on the current state of the nursing profession.
Mentoring in nursing creates numerous opportunities for everyone involved to thrive within their roles in new and profound ways. If both the mentee and mentor approach this enterprise with open hearts and minds, the benefits for both parties can be truly remarkable.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) is a nonprofit Tribal health organization designed to meet the unique health needs of Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Alaska.
Our work includes comprehensive medical services at the Alaska Native Medical Center, wellness programs, disease research and prevention, rural provider training and rural water and sanitation systems construction.