Mentors can be some of the most important people in your life. Perhaps one—or even more than one—has helped you during different times in your nursing career.
You know the value of mentorship, and now you’d like to be one. But you’re not sure what to do.
Luckily, as when you’re mentored, there are others to show you the way.
The Importance of Mentoring
For more than 20 years, Janice Nuuhiwa, MSN, RN, APN/CNS, CPHON, has mentored nurses as well as nursing students. “I’ve benefited from the influence of mentorship throughout my career,” says Nuuhiwa. “Mentorship is a crucial aspect of professionalism, and a mentor is needed in every stage of career development.”
While she worked for more than 10 years as a bedside nurse, Nuuhiwa now is a staff development specialist in the Division of Hematology/Oncology/Neuro-Oncology/Stem Cell Transplantation at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. She says that the nature of her job involves being a mentor to nurses who need one, and all of the mentoring she does is important.
“Mentors can be the difference between nurses staying or leaving the profession,” says Nuuhiwa. “A nurse satisfied with his/her career and confident in the manner in which s/he delivers care benefits the patients, families, nurse, and institution.”
Benjamin Evans, DD, DNP, RN, APN, PMHCNS-BC, has served as a mentor for more than 30 years and during his 41 years in nursing, he’s had a number of mentors who have helped him. “As I have gone through my career, there have been times when I had longed for a mentor, but could not find one with the requisite knowledge. For example—how to start a private practice in an age before business concepts were introduced into nursing curricula,” explains Evans, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at Felician University in Lodi, New Jersey. “Those nurses whom I’ve met who did not have mentors have shared similar experiences of needing guidance and support, but not having it. They learned by doing, through trial and error. Mentors can help bypass some of that struggle.”
How Mentorships Happen
Evans believes that mentors often just “happen” when the right people connect. If you sense someone could benefit from your knowledge, experience, and skills, reach out to him or her. There are, though, other ways to become a mentor as well.
If you don’t find a mentoring opportunity naturally, check to see if the institution where you work has a formal mentoring program, suggests Nuuhiwa. If you belong to a professional organization, check if it has a mentoring program. You can also reach out to your colleagues to see if one of them can benefit from your help.
You can even go to the nursing school you attended to see if they have a need for mentors, says Sheniqua Johnson, RN, MSN, an RN instructor at Partners in Care, a licensed home care agency that is part of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. “No one asked me to be a mentor to my trainees. I saw the need and acted on it because that is who I am as a person,” she says.
What Mentors Provide
“Empowered people empower people,” says Johnson. “Mentors give advice; they never tell people what to do. Health care is not an easy profession, and it can certainly take a toll on even the best of us. As a mentor, I try to alleviate that stress by showing ways to eradicate it.”
Evans hopes that the people he mentors learn the importance of the nursing profession within health care on a state as well as a national level. “By working with mentees, my goal is to increase their knowledge and skills around issues that are important to nursing and help them get the basic skills to become active and add their voices to nursing in the wider public arena,” he says. Determine what skills you have that may help the mentee progress. Start small, he says, and work on a task or project with someone you may want to mentor. If it’s a good experience, you may want to proceed.
Mentors can also help others, Nuuhiwa says, by helping them actualize goals, sharing experiences, providing encouragement, and sharing successes. “I have had several mentors throughout the various stages of my nursing career,” she says. “Each one assisted in sculpting me as a professional.” She learned how to establish professional boundaries, fine-tune her conflict management and communication style, and share her knowledge so that she became a public speaker. “I have had mentors cultivate areas of interest as well as redirect my approach to particular aspects of professionalism, all in an encouraging, engaging manner.”
“My advice to those wanting to mentor is to be yourself,” says Johnson. “Oftentimes, the mentees will come to you because they see qualities in you that they aspire to achieve.”
“Begin by taking a nurse ‘under your wings.’ Listen to the person’s challenges and issues,” Evans says. “Mentees often become good friends [with the mentor] and stay connected. Mentoring is a two-way street, and I often gain from serving as a mentor. I highly recommend it.”