Mentorship in Nursing: The Case for Inspiring and Guiding the Next Generation of Nurses
They care for us when we need it most, on the toughest of days and through the most challenging setbacks. They’re nurses—the eyes and ears of medicine, the connective tissue of the complex healthcare industry—and they’re the most honest and ethical profession among us.
But the ones who care for us when we need it most also need to be taken care of, both in their day-to-day well-being and over the span of a career. That’s where a nurse mentor comes in.
A mentor can play a powerful role in a nurse’s professional life, providing guidance, perspective and advice. And with so many career paths, opportunities for advancement and specializations to pursue, mentors can guide nurses to help them identify and achieve their career goals. But the benefits of mentorships in nursing don’t stop there.
We spoke with seasoned nursing experts to learn why mentorships can be so effective in the nursing field. Keep reading to see what they have to say and learn more about the bountiful benefits of nurse mentorships.
Why would a nurse need a mentor?
“Mentorship is more about supporting a person where they are and providing them the necessary tools to grow,” says registered nurse Kyana Brathwaite of KB CALS Caring Advocacy & Liaison Services. “The more we recognize each other’s struggles, strengths and needs the stronger we become and the better we can care for the individuals and families that are our responsibility to heal.”
She points out that nursing is a rewarding profession, but it is also physically and emotionally taxing. Nurses often push themselves to give their patients the best possible care, but may end up neglecting their own needs. These can grow from day to day issues to larger ones if ignored. In instances like these, a mentor can help. Mentors can also be great resources for new nurses.
“Mentoring is especially useful in nursing because it is a way to help new nurses enter the field while giving experienced nurses a chance to showcase and share their institutional knowledge,” says Benjamin Evans, DNP and president of the New Jersey State Nurses Association. “Mentoring offers newer nurses a safe space to learn as they grow in their practice of nursing. Many times, mentees are more comfortable asking questions of a mentor.”
In nursing school, students learn the terminology, procedures and practices of nursing. But the hubbub of a hospital and the realities of the workplace can present a learning curve for new nurses learning the ropes of nursing practice after graduation.
“Once the new nurse has a license, a mentor can help fill those gaps by helping them understand the culture of the workplace, working with new products, managing their workload and adapting to policies and procedures,” adds Evans.
New nurses, whether recently graduated or hired, can benefit from mentorships just as a seasoned nurse can. But there is no one-size-fits-all for mentorships in nursing. In fact, they can vary widely in how they are practiced.
What does a mentorship in nursing look like?
Mentorships can come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are casual and sometimes they are formal. And they’re not just for new nurses.
“The nurse mentor relationship takes on many forms,” says Brathwaite. This can include a specialized nurse that helps a nurse transition from another area. It could be a seasoned nurse taking a new nurse under their wing. It could also be a nurse administrator teaching their team to implement new best practices. Whatever the case, the mentorship should be defined by its open nature, allowing the mentee to come to the mentor with questions and concerns.
“A mentorship should allow for one individual to seek out another with questions. These can be clinical questions, questions about the nursing unit, the hospital or overall best practices,” says Rae Ellen Douglas, managing partner of nursing practice at Kaye Bassman International. “A mentor also should help someone focus on the big picture and career goals—not just day to day operations. It should help guide them in the direction they want to go.”
Mentorships could be as casual as catching up now and then. They could be as formal as reporting progress through regular meetings. But the common thread should be the open, supportive relationship between the two participants.
The benefits of a mentorship in nursing
Mentorship in nursing can be beneficial to the mentee, the mentor and even the healthcare environment. For new nurses, this can be especially important.
“Mentorship makes a difference in how a new nurse views themselves. Having someone who you can trust and know that they have your back allows a new nurse to ask the questions necessary to build confidence, hone assessment skills and trust their instincts,” says Brathwaite. She adds that mentorships for new nurses also provide them with a safe space to ask questions, make mistakes and learn from them in a productive manner.
Mentorships in nursing should not be a one-way street—a healthy mentorship should help both the mentee and the mentor. The mentee absorbs the wisdom of the mentor, while the mentor receives the opportunity for teaching and leadership experience.
“All parties benefit from mentorships. Mentors are recognized for their skills, expertise and wisdom in health care while expanding their leadership abilities. Mentees benefit from shared wisdom, networking, new ideas about care and professional issues,” says Evans. “Both parties grow from the relationship. The mentor is challenged by questions and insights from the mentee and the mentee gains valuable knowledge and often alternate ways of thinking of things not gleaned in Nursing school.”
"Nurse mentorships are really are really in the best interest of the patient."
Mentorships can be especially beneficial for new nurses finding their way in the workplace and their professional life, providing guidance and encouraging them to ask the questions without feeling at risk of ridicule.
“New nurses can sometime be like a deer in the headlights. They can be afraid of making an error, saying the wrong thing and not fitting in,” says Douglas. “Nursing can have a stressful, demanding entrance into the workforce, maybe unlike any other profession. Nurse bullying happens. Mentorships should decrease likelihood of that happening, increase new nurses’ confidence, awareness and overall practice as a nurse.”
Beyond nurse mentors and mentees, greater benefits of the relationship can be found within patients and the greater healthcare system. The effects of good mentorships can provide better results for patients and better employees for healthcare facilities.
“Patients and facilities benefit from shared expertise, the passing of institutional knowledge and the development of shared ideas that can improve health care outcomes and patient care,” says Evans.
“Nurse mentorships are really in the best interest of the patient. They should increase patient safety, patient satisfaction, employee engagement and even efficiencies,” says Douglas. “If done well, nurse mentorships can improve the overall experience of both the patient and the nurse.”
How to find your own nurse mentor
Unfortunately, nursing mentorship programs are not as common as they could be. But that shouldn’t hold you back from finding a mentor. If your workplace does not offer a mentorship program, begin to look at the individuals around you. Chances are, you may already be working with someone who is mentor material.
“Find someone who you are inspired by and who can act as a guide for you. This person doesn’t need to have extraordinary tenure, but they need to have experience and awareness beyond yours. Find someone you feel comfortable with—someone who inspires you. Find someone who delivers exceptional care. Watch, listen and learn from them. Seek them out,” advises Douglas.
Don’t let a lack of a formal program at your workplace stop you. After all, a mentorship does not have to be official in order to be beneficial. These informal mentorships are how many nurses find guidance in the workplace.
“I know lots of nurses who have mentors—they just haven’t called them that.”
If you’re an established nurse, don’t forget to pay it forward. Simply reaching out and asking a new nurse if they’re doing ok or have any questions can help break the ice. Taking the initiative to help get new nurses up to speed is also an excellent way to showcase your leadership abilities—always a plus when the time comes for a yearly review or potential promotion.
Mentorships make better nurses
Mentorships in nursing give guidance and assurance to nurses, both new and seasoned. They provide a safe place for nurses to ask questions, learn from mistakes and develop in their career. The benefits are far reaching—from the mentee to the mentor, to the patients and healthcare facilities. All benefit from strong mentorships.
Seeking out a mentor is a sign in your ambition—there’s no denying that. You crave growth and development and want to be the best nurse you can become. And in order to do that in your career, you’ll need to demonstrate your leadership capacities.
Be sure to check out our article, “5 Innovative Ways to Display Leadership in Nursing,” for more ideas on how to get started.