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As if being a nurse wasn’t already hard enough, many new nurses have to endure brusque behavior and cutting criticism from more experienced colleagues once they start their first job. Combined with other factors such as burnout, this lack of support from nursing colleagues helps explain why turnover is so high among new nurses.

But things don’t have to be this way, and more experienced nurses can do a lot to help new nurses feel welcome. If you’re looking to support and mentor new nurses, here are 10 ideas on how to do just that:

1. Remember that you’re a role model.

First and foremost, remember that new nurses are looking to you as an example of how they should behave. Consider what message you’re sending to them with your conduct. Are you kind, collaborative and calm, or are you easily upset and overly critical? Think of the Golden Rule, and treat new nurses the way you would want to be treated if you were in their nursing shoes.

2. Get them up to speed on company culture.

There are lots of rules, often unspoken, that govern work at both the hospital and unit levels. These customs might not immediately be apparent to new nurses, and that’s where you come in. Educate new employees about the cool rules of your team and the broader organization at large to help them avoid gaffes. There’s always a learning curve when anyone joins a new organization, but you can help shorten that curve for young nurses.

3. Help younger nurses network.

Building connections with colleagues is critical for both short-term success in a particular job and your long-term career trajectory. As an experienced nurse who (hopefully) already has a lot of relationships with fellow nurses, physicians, and administrators, one of the best things you can do is take new nurses around and introduce them to everyone you know. This will give younger nurses a huge jumpstart on networking at their new workplace and get rid of the awkwardness of a blind introduction. If you want to go above and beyond, consider introducing new nurses to your connections from other facilities or associations if they have something in common, such as specialties.

4. Give constructive criticism.

New nurses are bound to make mistakes, and as a more experienced leader, it’s your job to point these out and help them learn from their slip-ups. However, don’t use this as an excuse to tear down new nurses, especially in front of others. While this is often a common practice, it’s bad for both individual and team morale, and ripping a nurse for what they did wrong won’t necessarily teach them how to do better in the future—which is kind of the whole point. Instead, identify what they did wrong and offer suggestions for what they should have done differently.

5. Help them identify areas for growth.

Not all learning experiences have to stem from a mistake. As a mentor, you can work proactively to help new nurses determine areas for growth before it becomes an issue. Maybe they should join some more professional associations, or take additional certification workshops or build closer relationships with physicians. You can also ask new nurses for their own ideas of what they need to improve on to make it a more collaborative process.

6. Praise new nurses when they do something right.

That being said, try not to dwell entirely on mistakes or areas for growth. While these are absolutely critical to helping new nurses develop into their full potential, balance constructive criticism with compliments when new nurses do something right. Maybe they handled a difficult patient really well or they have excellent nursing bag technique. Whatever it is, highlight it and let the new nurses know what a good job they’re doing (in front of others, too, when appropriate).

7. Share examples from your own experience.

Abstract advice is great, but concrete examples from your own early days as a nurse are even better. New nurses often feel like they’re the only ones who have made a mistake or not known what to do, even though every nurse experiences this at some point in their careers. If you’re comfortable sharing, think back on some of your own learning experiences from the start of your nursing career and communicate those to new nurses.

8. Deliver on your promises.

Everyone has that one annoying friend who always cancels plans at the last minute, and this sort of behavior is doubly irritating in a more experienced nurse who’s supposed to be acting as a mentor. Don’t make promises to new nurses that you don’t intend to keep, as this will give the impression that they can engage in the same kind of behavior. It’s much better to say “no” up front if you can’t (or don’t want to) participate.

9. Be a trustworthy sounding board.

New nurses face a lot of dilemmas during their first days and months on the job. They’re coping with high levels of stress, they’re prone to burnout and they’re facing significant choices that can impact their careers down the line. Try to build trustworthy relationships so that when new nurses are thinking about finding a new job (or hanging up their scrubs altogether), they feel comfortable coming to you for advice on their dilemma. Of course, part of this trustworthiness is keeping the conversation confidential and not sharing new nurses’ concerns with your colleagues unless they have explicitly given you permission to do so.

10. Stay open to feedback.

Constructive comments are a two-way street, and the best mentors and leaders are open to feedback and suggestions for improvement from their mentees and direct reports. New nurses might not feel like they have the authority to give this to you without an invitation, so actively solicit feedback and ask people for recommendations on what they need from a mentor and what you can do better. You might be surprised at what ideas they have!

As a more experienced nurse, you can positively impact the careers (and lives) of new nurses if you take them under your wing instead of cutting them down. Use one or more of these strategies to support and mentor new nurses and help them start their first jobs on the right foot.

Deborah Swanson
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