Mentorship Program for Nurse Leaders Finding Success

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By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

March 31, 2014 - Nurses have an opportunity to lead much of the change taking place in the health care system, according to the Institute of Medicine’s “Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” report, and the California Action Coalition has developed a mentorship program which is helping develop the next generation of nurses to serve as leaders in these roles.

“We decided if we focused on mentorship, it would help us move the initiative forward,” said Patricia McFarland, MSN, RN, FAAN, CEO of the Association of California Nurse Leaders (ACNL), the California Student Nursing Association and the California Association for Colleges of Nursing in Sacramento, and coalition co-lead for implementing the report’s leadership recommendation.

Patricia McFarland received AONE award for mentorship program participation.
Patricia McFarland, MSN, RN, FAAN, CEO, (right) received the AONE Mentor Award for her work in mentoring others, including participating in the action coalition’s program.

“The Affordable Care Act and Institute of Medicine Future of Nursing report have given us excellent opportunities to move nursing to the next level,” McFarland said. “The next generation sees further than us and has the energy, insight and intellect to move this profession forward. We have to make sure we position them well to take the lead.”

California Action Coalition members, from a variety of nursing and non-nursing organizations, work in teams to implement the recommendations in the report. The state’s mentorship program dovetails with the 2014 leadership focus of the national Campaign for Action, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AARP.

“Mentoring is key to strengthening any leader,” said Mary Dickow, MPA, statewide director of the California Action Coalition in San Francisco, who reported having a number of mentors in her career and feels mentoring is a way to give back. “Having strong mentors in my life helped me think differently and advance. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”

Pairing mentors 

Funding for the mentoring program comes from ACNL and Kaiser Permanente. The program, now in its second year, pairs experienced nurse leaders with nurses aspiring to advance within the profession. A mentee can also serve as a mentor to someone less experienced.

“Nurses are natural mentors,” McFarland said. “Mentors see things in individuals that they might not see in themselves.”

McFarland, a mentor herself, recognizes mentoring takes time. She encourages colleagues to invest that time in the future workforce and the care everyone will need and receive in the years ahead.

“I get more back when I see the lights go on, the engagement,” McFarland said. “Investing the time today gives you great memories for tomorrow.”

Grettell Vitale encourages nurses to seek mentoring.
Grettell Vitale, RN, BSN, PHN, has found the mentorship program beneficial to her goals and encourages all nurses to seek mentors.

Based on their profiles, the program matches mentees with mentors who have the desired expertise. For instance, Grettell Vitale, RN, BSN, PHN, nursing practice outcomes coordinator at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, has an interest in public policy and was paired with Dickow.

“I hope to gain leadership insights,” Vitale said. “When you listen to somebody’s experiences, challenges and victories, you can shape your own lenses, vision and purpose.”

Vitale has joined the local chapter of ACNL and is making connections with nurses involved in policy.

Mentee Christine Cave, RN, MSN, CRRN, HFS, nurse manager of inpatient acute rehabilitation at El Camino Hospital, Los Gatos, began the coalition’s mentoring program hoping to learn more about managing a budget. She feels she accomplished that and more.

“I came out learning how to cultivate nursing skill and practice engagement,” Cave said.

Setting content goals 

The mentorship program uses an online platform called LifeMoxie Mentoring, which offers monthly webinars addressing leadership skill sets, problems, career advancement and other topics and tools to help mentors and mentees get to know each other.

“I love the way they are presented,” Vitale said. “They do a phenomenal job of translating the research or theory, why it is important and how to apply it to your work. I look forward to that monthly seminar, because it has real things I can apply immediately.”

Action coalition members worked with LifeMoxie to incorporate the American Organization of Nurse Executive’s (AONE’s) nurse-executive competencies and later added nurse-manager competencies.

Another track will offer nurses looking to grow whether in academia or other settings a mentor. New graduates interested in leadership are welcome in the second year. Also this year, the program will focus on preparing nurses to sit on community and health-system boards, a focus of the national campaign.

“We think nurses have something to contribute at all crosses of the system to ensure the health of our communities,” McFarland said.

Completing projects 

Each mentee completes a project, such as publishing an article or serving on an association policy committee, with coaching from the mentor.

“The projects are dependent on the mentee and where they want to go,” McFarland said.

Christine Cave has gained benefits from the mentorship program.
Christine Cave, RN, MSN, CRRN, HFS, said she has gained so much knowledge and wisdom from the mentorship program.

Cave embarked on a project to help the nurses on her unit understand the complex role of a rehabilitation nurse. She developed a self-assessment tool to determine how closely the RNs followed the scope and standards set by the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses. She helps them plan how to grow in the role through a project or involvement in a committee and follows up on their progress.

“The tool has helped nurses look at their own practice,” Cave said.

Through the project, McFarland said, Cave turned around the environment on her unit.

“I became the luckiest mentee ever, getting paired with Pat McFarland,” said Cave, who credits McFarland with helping her redirect her anxiety. “She was so available. The trust there was so good.”

Looking forward to the future 

Seventy-four mentor/mentee pairs have participated, 40 in the first cohort and 34 this year. Dickow hopes to find additional funding to continue the program. The Kaiser foundation limits its grants to two years.

Vitale said she has found the program beneficial and only regrets not starting sooner. She now encourages new graduates working at her facility to go find mentors to help them on their journey.

“We often wait for a better time, but there’s no better time than now,” Vitale said. “There’s a ripple effect. You help other people as well.”

McFarland and Dickow expect the relationships with their mentors will continue long after the official program ends.

“Mentoring is something all professionals should do,” McFarland said. “If we do not reach back to mentor the next generation, when all of us retire, what’s going to happen? Who is going to lead nursing?”

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