Research shows that a high percentage of new nurses—anywhere from 23 to 60 percent, depending on the study—leave their first job or even the entire nursing profession within two years. The reasons for this include stressful work environments, bullying from other nurses, and lack of professional support while making the transition from nursing school to professional practice. When staff turnover rates are high, the quality of patient care is likely to suffer, and as a result many healthcare organizations are addressing staff retention with some sort of mentoring program.
If you’re just getting started in your nursing career, you’ll get off to a better start with an employer that values professional development, including mentorship programs. If you’re an experienced nurse, you should make it a priority to mentor a younger nurse, or perhaps one who is adjusting to a new specialty area. The benefits of nurses mentoring other nurses are not one-sided. Mentoring helps to advance nursing practice because it not only promotes learning in those being mentored, but also allows mentors to examine their own standards of nursing practice, while serving as a role model. The relationship promotes collaboration and professional development among everyone involved, allowing both younger and more experienced nurses to enrich each other’s lives. In particular, experienced nurses may be surprised to find that younger nurses offer a unique perspective on current issues, use of technology, and newer models of care.
Some employers have formal mentoring programs. These are facilitated, structured, and intentional. They typically require the support of top management, and rely on a coordinator to match mentors with mentees, often for a set amount of time and with specific outcomes or goals in mind. For example, newly hired nurses may be paired with a mentor for the first six months of employment, with the goal being a more successful orientation process and better familiarity with policies and procedures. In this way, formal mentoring programs are often designed to benefit the organization as much as the individual. They can provide mentors with a sense of being valued and appreciated, which can be an empowering feeling in a setting where health professionals don’t always feel respected. They can also offer those acting as mentors a chance to showcase leadership skills. Formal mentoring programs are often supported by nurse executives who proactively approach succession planning. They are seeking to identify strong internal candidates who can be promoted to nurse managers.
Yet even if your hospital doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, you have many opportunities to share knowledge and useful insights on an informal mentoring basis. Informal mentoring relationships often spring up alongside of or in the absence of a formal program, as nurses find opportunities to support a colleague by sharing knowledge and insights. Meetings may be social in nature and allow the mentor to share advice or lend an empathetic ear in a casual manner. The organization does not set goals for nor have a stake in these relationships, so the benefits of informal mentoring relationships have not been studied even though they are acknowledged to exist.
When you make time to offer support and friendship to a less experienced nurse, you’re helping to promote competent nursing practice by influencing the quality of care that nurse is able to provide. Conversations and relationships have the ability to provide inspiration and stimulate thinking, often by chance. And this is exactly the idea behind informal mentoring—it’s just two people, with enough compatibility to exchange ideas and learn from each other. Informal mentoring honors the human side of the workplace, and it upholds the ideal that people can bring out the best in each other. When you seize upon every opportunity to act as an informal mentor, you can provide coaching, advice, and an empathetic ear to someone who needs a sounding board.
Peer group mentoring is another informal approach that can allow the transfer of knowledge between nurse managers. Such programs might be structured as a monthly luncheon, which brings together professionals with various levels of expertise and seniority and allows each member to share ideas, experiences, and concerns. Peer groups can be considered informal mentoring because they usually do not have a single designated mentor, yet all can benefit from the combined knowledge of the whole group.
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