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Mentoring 101: What you need to know about nurturing new nurses

“I will be your mentor.” I was fortunate to hear these five words early in my career. As nursing becomes more complex, patients more critical, and students more challenging to teach, mentoring becomes more essential for clinicians and educators.

Here are answers to common questions about mentoring and how it works.

What is mentoring?

According to the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, mentoring is a reciprocal and collaborative learning relationship between two, sometimes more, individuals with mutual goals and shared accountability for the outcomes and success of the relationship.

Why do we need mentors?

The shortage of nurses in both academia and the clinical setting, the hectic practice environment, and statistics on the numbers of new graduate nurses who leave their first nursing position within the first year all demonstrate the need for mentors. In addition, the 2010 Future of Nursing report from the Institute of Medicine noted that mentoring is a good way to strengthen the nursing workforce and, in turn, improve the quality of care and patient outcomes.

What are the benefits of mentoring?

Mentoring has many benefits. The mentor helps the less-experienced nurse mature and grow in the field; the mentor benefits from the satisfaction of helping a younger colleague. In the mentoring relationship you will be giving back to the profession and learn from the fresh perspective of your mentee.

Mentoring helps nurses develop into the kind of leaders who can play a larger part in the development, design, and delivery of health care, which will ultimately strengthen the nation’s healthcare system. Mentoring also helps healthcare organizations and academic institutions retain nurses and nurse educators, which can curb a shortage of nurses and nurse faculty. Nurses should emulate Florence Nightingale, who acted as a mentor; new nurses are a direct reflection of seasoned nurses who taught and mentored them.


How do we mentor?

Many organizations have formal mentoring programs; however, mentoring can be informal too. Most new nurses are assigned a preceptor in their first position, and although preceptors have a somewhat distinct role, a preceptor can evolve into a mentor.

Whether a preceptor or a mentor, experienced nurses need to nurture the beginning nurse. When new nurses graduate and pass their state licensing exam, they are considered safe, competent practitioners. But are they experienced? Can they critically think through complex patient situations? Probably not. Experienced nurses need to mentor and share their clinical experiences.

Sharing and mentoring can be done through a variety of ways, including storytelling, critical reflective thinking, or posing problems to solve. Successful mentoring is built on trust, assessment, evaluation, constructive feedback, and by serving as a positive role model. The successful mentor-mentee relationship requires time and commitment.

To assess whether you are ready to be a mentor, ask yourself:

  • Am I ready to share my knowledge, clinical expertise, wisdom, academic experience, and act as a positive role model?
  • Am I prepared to share my successes and failures?
  • Do I have the time and patience to make a commitment to mentor?

Mentors should help socialize their mentees to the norms of the profession. That includes introducing them to others at professional meetings and in the work setting, as well as teaching them about the norms on the nursing unit, on campus, or in the boardroom. For example, if the routine on your nursing unit is that the first to arrive at work starts the coffee brewing, let your mentee know. Failing to do so may place him or her at risk for criticism from co-workers.

See Top 10 tips for mentors for more ideas.

The value of mentoring

In nursing education and in the clinical setting, mentoring can be viewed as effective when the end result is being a competent, confident, insightful nurse who is able to use critical thinking skills and provide high-quality care to patients. Seasoned nurses must mentor new nurses in such a way that the nursing profession is viewed for what it was meant to be, a caring art.

Selected references

Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (2012). AMSN Mentoring Program Mentor Guide. 2012.

Institute of Medicine. The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Report recommendations. 2010.

NurseTogether.com. Are seasoned nurses doing their best in mentoring new ones? August 27, 2012.

Barbara B. Blozen is an associate professor of nursing at New Jersey City University in Jersey City.

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