Whether you’re a new nurse, a nurse transitioning to a specialty area, or a knowledgeable nurse seeking to share your wisdom, nurse mentorships are invaluable for both mentors and mentees.
When thinking about nurse mentorships, many may consider this term synonymous with 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 also for a limited time and during specific work hours.
Mentorships, on the other hand, are a collaborative effort intended to support nurses’ professional and personal development.
Nurse mentorships can also be formal or informal depending on the setting or relationship. Formal mentorships through a healthcare facility or other 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 frequency of meetings or an outline of goals).
Informal mentorships can occur when a nurse approaches a senior colleague, leader, or friend to enter this partnership. Mentors and mentees can collaborate at any point without a formal program.
Becoming a Nurse Mentor
Before becoming a nurse mentor, you can first assess if a mentorship is the right choice for you by asking yourself questions such as:
- What do I hope to gain from a mentorship?
- Do I have time in my schedule 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 have to embody certain qualities and jump into different roles such as educator, supporter, and friend.
“Experience, enthusiasm, and a willing spirit are essential qualities of successful mentors,” said Trish Richardson, MSN, BSBA, RN, NE-BC, CMSRN, Director of Post-Acute Care Solutions at Relias and President-Elect of the North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA).
In addition, she suggested that leadership experience, effective communication and listening skills, and a pay-it-forward mentality can play an important part in making the collaboration effective.
Nurse mentors also carry many responsibilities, including providing clinical education, offering career guidance, and supporting mentees through challenging situations. All functions of a nurse mentor are significant; however, Richardson added, in her experience, the most critical responsibility is role modeling professionalism and leadership.
Mentors can shape and impact future nurse leaders, making this element even more pertinent.
At the start, you should set the goals both you and your mentee want to achieve and commit to a regular cadence of meetings or contact. By identifying these objectives, you may find that you share similar insights, or you have aspirations that align.
Your mentor targets could be coaching an early career nurse, nurturing leadership skills in new nurse leaders, or giving back to the profession. It’s important for you as well to be able to learn and grow from this experience.
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.
Being a Nurse Mentee
Nurse mentorships allow mentees to expand their skill set, gain more clinical knowledge, network with colleagues, and feel supported in their role. To find a nurse 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, such as at facilities in rural areas or smaller organizations. When encountering these situations, there are options available online, such as HOLLIBLU, a community-building social app for nurses co-owned by Nurse.com, or the American Nurse Association’s (ANA) Mentoring Program, a virtual program 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 aims may be to improve your clinical skill set or expand your network, or you may aspire to 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, who has 38 years of experience in critical care nursing and 20 years as a clinical educator, said you should also share a “willingness to meet and actively engage in discussion” with your mentor. Being committed to the plan and sticking to a structured meeting schedule are also part 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
Richardson touched upon the extensive list of benefits for mentees paired with the right mentors.
“As a mentee, you’ll gain improved self-confidence, solid communication skills, enhanced goal-setting practices, and an appreciation for new and diverse perspectives,” she said.
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 nurse mentor helps you identify and express what you really want — personally or professionally — and as you realize your ambitions and plan to advance in your career, your mentor will be there to celebrate with you.
Benefits for Mentors
As a mentor, you impact the nursing profession as well as patient care. Mentors provide nurse mentees with more support and more education, and this translates into a thriving workforce that improves the safety and care environment 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 also can be energizing and offer a fresh perspective on the current state of the nursing profession.
Cara Lunsford, RN, Founder and CEO of HOLLIBLU, and Vice President of Community at Relias, had a similar opinion on the importance of sharing 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.
Learn more about mentoring through these courses:
Partnership: Making the Most of Mentoring
(1 contact hour)
Mentoring is not new to nursing; however, nurses often confuse mentoring with other career development relationships, such as coaching, precepting, or peer strategizing. Because of this lack of clarity in the literature, nurses need to understand the difference between mentoring and other career development relationships. This continuing education module offers information about the mentor/protégé relationship, the benefits of such relationships, and how to go about establishing one.
Coaching: An Essential Skill for Nurses
(5.6 contact hours)
The nursing workforce today is a compilation of multigenerational, multicultural team members. Developing an effective, positive team requires skills to develop staff engagement in their quest to provide exceptional patient care and outcomes. Nursing leaders can improve performance and professional development utilizing coaching. This course describes the process of coaching including the what, why, and how in order to have success in building team confidence and relationships.
Learning to Lead: From Staff Nurse to Charge Nurse
(5 contact hours)
All nurses are leaders. They not only support patients in doing what they are unable to do for themselves, but they also manage their care and lead them toward a vision and personal goal of better health. Most nurses find themselves in a position to lead a group of colleagues in a team or on a patient care unit. This course focuses on the skills needed to manage both the patient and the staff caring for an entire group of patients. Implementation of leadership and management strategies — such as conflict resolution, interprofessional communication, coaching, delegation, and assessment — is outlined and demonstrated in case examples.