Nurse mentorships: A two-way street

Author(s):By Kathleen Venant, MSN/MBA, BSN, RN

nurse mentorships two way street

Mentoring is successful only when both the mentor and mentee contribute.


  • Formal or informal mentorship can promote the longevity of mentees.
  • Mentorship can create pride in mentees while simultaneously increasing the confidence of mentors.
  • Mentorships drive the nursing profession forward by building self-confidence, which can help reduce attrition narrow the nursing shortage.

Preceptors are intended to contribute to a nurse’s orientation process so he or she can make a successful transition into an organization. However, preceptor programs aren’t enough to ensure nurse success or retention. Evidence about mentorships, however, shows mentees increasing their self-confidence, effectively adjusting into their new role, developing new skills and knowledge, and feeling better prepared. 

The concept of formal mentoring originated from the business industry in the 1980s and rapidly grew in popularity in the 1990s. Informal mentoring has always been a concept in nursing, but as the profession evaluates and strategizes how to address the nursing shortage, formal mentoring programs are resurfacing within nursing schools, healthcare systems, and nursing units. (See Mentor vs. preceptor.)

Mentor vs. preceptor

Understanding the difference between a mentor and a preceptor can help clarify the roles they play in nurse orientation and retention.


A mentor is a knowledgeable and experienced individual who develops a supportive relationship with a less-experienced colleague to help guide his or her professional and personal development. Mentorships are voluntary and ongoing, and they work best when they develop organically and are authentic.


Preceptorships, which are prearranged, are time limited—they last for the length of orientation.

Mentors provide support, guidance, and encouragement to student nurses, new graduates, and nurses making a specialty or practice transition. In return, they experience satisfaction, professional confidence, pride, and enthusiasm for nursing. This reciprocal relationship can yield a practice culture shift that improves retention. And evidence shows that increasing job satisfaction results in higher patient satisfaction and safety and improved quality outcomes. The following strategies can help ensure a successful mentorship.


As the mentor, acknowledge that you’re being observed: Your mentee is observing your presence, mannerisms, interactions, and demeanor. Also acknowledge the time needed to be a mentor. If your current personal and professional demands won’t allow you to be available to a potential mentee, be honest and suggest a better time or recommend someone else as a mentor.As amentee, acknowledge that you must play an active role and bring certain characteristics to the relationship. (See Mentor/mentee characteristics.)

Mentor/mentee characteristics

Mentors and mentees should bring certain characteristics to the relationship for it to succeed.

Mentor characteristics

  • Empathy
  • Nonjudgment and patience
  • Advanced professional development
  • Ethical and moral integrity
  • Peer respect
  • Support for change
  • Effective listening skills
  • Commitment
  • Sensitivity
  • Positive and motivational attitude
  • Inspiration and enthusiasm
  • Ability to provide constructive and honest feedback
  • Willingness to be accessible for questions

Mentee characteristics

  • Resilience
  • Eagerness to learn
  • Motivated
  • Asks questions and seeks answers
  • Flexible
  • Punctual
  • Committed
  • Gives feedback
  • Allow for grace during the learning process

Action and follow-up

nurse mentorships two way street postBoth the mentor and mentee must actively engage in allocating time and opportunities to meet. As the mentor, provide constructive feedback and refrain from micromanaging, dictating, and indulging in petty gossip. Remember to stay focused on the goal, which is to have a productive and fruitful meeting. As the mentee, come to each meeting prepared, organized, and ready to discuss goals, challenges, and resources. Depending on the specific mentoring relationship, an agenda is a helpful guide for staying focused and organized.

Meeting frequency and format usually are specific to individual mentorships and the mentee’s goals. Meetings can occur in person, over the phone, or via an online meeting platform, but typically the most effective communication occurs face-to-face. Some formal mentorships include a contract that outlines the mentee’s goals, meeting frequency, and timeframes.

Follow-up is essential. It reinforces active listening, commitment, and respect for each other’s time. For example, mentors can indicate an anticipated timeframe of completing a task or request. And mentees should communicate updates and when an extension is necessary.


Mentorship is voluntary, and gratitude is one of its rewards. As a mentee, show your gratitude for the time and expertise the mentor shared. Another reward of mentorship is the satisfaction of seeing your mentee reach his or her goals and knowing that you helped the mentee develop confidence and fulfill objectives. Even more rewarding is observing the mentee become a mentor.

As nurses, we impact not only our patients’ lives, but each other’s as well. Studies show that having appreciation and consistently displaying and recognizing gratitude can increase happiness and promote good health. So be kind, be authentic, be amazing, and practice gratitude.

Preserve the profession

Whether mentorships are formal or informal, they help foster and preserve the nursing profession through guidance, constructive feedback, and empathy. You can positively impact nursing by supporting your colleagues.

Kathleen Venant is a pediatrics dialysis unit and pediatrics surge pool nurse manager at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Selected references

Jakubik LD, Eliades AB, Weese MM. Part 1: An overview of mentoring practices and mentoring benefits. Pediatr Nurs.2016;42(1):37-8.

Mijares L, Baxley SM, Bond ML. Mentoring: A concept analysis. J Theory Constr Test.2013;17(1):23-8.

Smith-Trudeau P. Will you be my nurse mentor? Vermont Nurse Connection2014;17(2):3.


  1. There are still many nurses who continue to “eat their young” and transfers to specialty units . It’s a sad event to see turnover that did not have to be. Different learning styles seem to play a part as well as limited staffing and other time constraints. It would be beneficial to see a study that focused on how people learn and its effect on successful precepting and mentoring outcomes. On a bright note, I have noticed more ability in some newer nurses to effectively precept and mentor new grads as well as older transfers.

  2. Save the nurse! Mentorships play a key role.
    As a Director of Education with oversight of a nurse residency program which onboards over 700 graduate nurses in 18 hospitals each year, I appreciate the journals focus on mentorship. The article “Nurse Mentorships: A two-way street” addresses the value an effective mentorship brings to the retention of nursing staff.1 The article defines and differentiates the roles of the preceptor and the mentor on professional orientation and development. Venant stresses the importance of the mentor and mentee to willingly and actively participating in the mentorship relationship. As a nursing leader and a peer mentor, I have experienced and witnessed the value added to the nurse’s development and success within the profession and the organization when both parties are committed to the mentorship. Prior to committing to this relationship, mentors and mentees should review the characteristics which were listed in the article and confirm their readiness and availability.
    I have been fortunate to have many mentors pour their knowledge and support on me over the past 24 years. The need for mentors continues to grow and has received recognition from the Institute of Medicine in the 2010 Future of Nursing report as a way to transform and develop the nursing practice.2 As nurses, we are challenged to practice to our full potential which should include supporting the next generation of nurses. As a nursing leader, I challenge all nurses to make themselves available by supporting other nurses in their journey to be their best.

    Lisa Greer BSN, RN

    1. Venant, K. Nurse mentorships: A two-way street. American Nurse Today. 2018;13(10). Accessed on October 16, 2018.
    2. Blozen, B. B. Mentoring 101: What you need to know about nurturing new nurses. American Nurse Today. 2016;11(6). Accessed on October 16, 2018

  3. This is so important especially today, and we need to remember what our first days were like as a new Nurse, coming into the profession. Who did we look up to, who took us under their wing, and who did we strive to emulate, in our careers. Did you exceed your expectations? Ask yourself why? There was probably someone in your career who challenged you to be better than you ever thought. Handed you a level of responsibility that you always wanted, and then were in the position to lead, manage, care for some of the most vulnerable patients and you became proficient, and one of the best in the field. I still think of the nursing leaders who I feared, not because they were punitive, but because I did not want to let them down. They succeeded, and I have had the most diverse career, and experiences, and continue to learn on a daily basis. CAPT LJ Belsito, RN, MSN, CCM USPHS


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