At some point, you may have encountered a more experienced nurse whom you respected and admired, and from whom you learned a lot just by watching. Maybe you even decided—consciously or unconsciously—to emulate this person, as a way of becoming a more effective nurse. If so, you probably already understand the benefits of having a mentor.
A nurse mentor can help you learn new clinical skills and develop skills in important areas like critical thinking, interpersonal communications, leadership, and problem solving. The mentoring relationship can give you someone to turn to with questions, concerns, or problems. It can also go beyond daily guidance. In some cases, the right mentor can help you make job decisions, advance in your career, or move into a new specialty. Unlike a clinical preceptor, a mentor may help you determine your ideal career path or develop more awareness of your individual strengths and weaknesses.
Because nurse mentoring can help less experienced nurses gain confidence and new skill sets, mentoring is seen as vital to the scope of the nursing profession as a whole—and even to advance improvements to the entire healthcare system in this era of rapid change. For example, it’s a well-known fact that many new nurses change jobs or move away from patient care entirely during the first two years of employment. Studies show that mentoring programs can help brand new nurses make the transition from nursing school to nursing practice, boosting nurse retention and eliminating some of the safety and quality issues that arise from high staff turnover and insufficient staffing ratios. For this reason, the Nurse Mentoring Institute was formed, to promote the practice of mentoring and provide resources to nurses and hospitals who want to foster a culture of mentorship.
The mentor relationship is built on mutual trust and respect and can be empowering for both parties. For example, a younger nurse often has something to share with an older mentor, whether a new perspective on current issues or an easy understanding of today’s technologies. Mentors have the chance to examine their own ideas about nursing practice while serving as a role model, which can foster a sense of collaboration.
If your workplace has a formal mentoring program, it’s important to take advantage of it. These programs 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.
If your employer doesn’t sponsor formal mentoring, you can find a mentor through more informal means, by approaching someone you work with or know through a professional nursing organization. You might also develop a virtual relationship with a mentor you connect with through LinkedIn or an online nursing forum.
A relationship with a mentor could turn into one of the most rewarding collaborations you’ll ever have. It may even inspire you to eventually become a mentor yourself.
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