By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
July 12, 2012 - Who says that mentorships are only useful for new, fresh-out-of-school nurses? Health care facilities, schools of nursing and professional associations are trying new approaches to reach out and support nurses throughout their careers, resulting in benefits for all parties involved.
Mentors can guide a nurse’s career and help the mentee weigh alternatives and avoid pitfalls; at the same time, mentors enhance their own skills and the profession as they pass along knowledge and intangibles necessary for success. And employers can realize a double bonus--by improving retention rates at both levels within their workforce.
“Mentors are critical to our profession,” said Lois L. Salmeron, Ed.D, RN, MS, CNE, ANEF, associate dean for academic affairs and professor at the Kramer School of Nursing at Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma. “This is one way to nurture our own and retain nurses.”
The Kramer School offers a formal mentoring program, assigning a seasoned faculty member to someone new to the program, ideally team teaching. Most remain close after the one-year formal program ends.
“We view [mentoring] as key to a positive transition,” said Salmeron, who adds that mentors also are important when a nurse wants to change specialties.
Cynthia Nowicki Hnatiuk, EdD, RN, CAE, encourages nurses to download the mentoring materials at the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses website.
Cynthia Nowicki Hnatiuk, EdD, RN, CAE, executive director of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, called mentors the single most effective way to help nurses learn a new role and increase their confidence.
“It provides a one-on-one opportunity for two individuals to teach and learn together,” Hnatiuk said.
“Mentorship is something that never really stops, and something each person has to take responsibility for themselves,” added Ora Strickland, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean of the Florida International University (FIU) College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Miami. “You will have many mentors through your career, and more than one mentor at one time, depending on what you are trying to gain skills in.”
Strickland has found most mentors enjoy the experience.
FIU offers a research mentorship program to increase the research productivity of its faculty and help them learn how to network, seek funding, conduct studies and publish their findings. The mentorships cross disciplines to encourage collaboration.
Formal mentoring programs
Many nursing employers provide formal mentoring programs.
UnitedHealth Group Center for Nursing Advancement built its own nurse mentoring initiative, leveraging best practices. It facilitates monthly in-person and virtual mentor/mentee interactions. Mentees submit profiles about development needs and potential mentors’ strengths, and the center electronically matches them. After the one-year mentorship ends, mentees can continue attending special events.
Dawn Bazarko, DNP, MPH, RN, senior vice president of the Center for Nursing Advancement, reports 100 percent of the first cohort of nurse mentees has continued working at UnitedHealth and 21 percent have received a promotion. The center is now building a new mentoring program for more seasoned nurses within the organization to take on broader leadership roles.
“We’re taking our experience to inspire and evolving that to address the needs of our senior nurses,” Bazarko said. “Nurses are critical to the people we serve, modernized health care and our business success. It’s a deliberate investment in their personal and professional enrichment.”
MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore also offers a formal mentoring program and has found it reduces turnover and increases productivity, reported Joy Burke, RN, MSN, CCRN, a clinical specialist at Good Samaritan. The hospital offers mentoring classes to prospective mentors, who must have at least two years of experience. Approximately 130 nurses have taken the course and are currently mentoring 67 novice nurses.
“The nurse has a friend, a buddy, someone they can call on,” Burke said. “They get critical feedback from the mentor.”
Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., pairs new hires with a mentor, said Lynette Dahlman, MSN, RN-BC, director of clinical education and academic partnerships. Serving as a mentor earns credit toward a nurse’s career ladder.
“Nurses do everything they can to help a nurse grow, so they are proud to work alongside [of them],” Dahlman said.
Kara Boakye, RN, BSN, CPN, said mentoring has allowed her to know her talents and develop her leadership skills.
Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston also offers a formal mentoring program. The hospital matches mentors and mentees with like backgrounds and with the skills the mentee needs. Formalized classes provide resources and an objective look at internal resources.
Kara Boakye, RN, BSN, CPN, nurse manager of the progressive care unit at Texas Children’s, said she has gotten to know herself better and become a better leader after being mentored by Emily Weber, RN, NEA-BC, nursing director for newborns at the hospital.
“I feel I gain just as much from the relationship, because it makes me pause and think about why I would make that decision,” Weber said. “Both parties gain a lot from it.”
Emily Weber, RN, NEA-BC, said both the mentor and mentee should benefit from the relationship.
South Nassau Community Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y., takes a slightly different approach with its mentoring program, designed to help nurses advance to the expert level. It matches nurses with potential to move up with outstanding stars who can mentor and coach them in communication skills, working within the organization and understanding the health care industry.
“Mentoring isn’t about clinical skills,” said Sue Penque, Ph.D, RN, CNP, chief nursing officer at South Nassau. “A mentor is above and beyond what you get in didactic training.”
Sue Penque, Ph.D., RN, CNP, established a mentoring program to help nurses at South Nassau Community Hospital advance to the expert level.
South Nassau conducts annual assessments of nurses’ strengths and performance to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. It also identifies experiences where people can grow and take on new responsibilities while the mentor is present and able to coach.
Finding a mentor
While a formal program might make it easier to connect with a mentor, nurses often can find one independently. Nurses should observe others who practice as they aspire to and approach that person, advises Hnatiuk.
Penque has asked a nursing leader in academia whom she admired to mentor her.
Strickland has approached subject-matter experts whose abilities and skills she respected and asked them for mentoring and has never been turned down.
Finding the right mentor “can be just as hard as finding a good husband or wife--and well worth the search,” said author and relationship expert April Masini of Naples, Fla. She recommended being persistent and trying until you connect with the right person; when you succeed, be careful not to seek more time than agreed upon and to respect professional boundaries.
The Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses recently launched a free, self-directed mentoring program with online validated tools, including mentor and mentee guides, for nurses new to the specialty and those who are changing settings.
“We would love for people to use the resources,” Hnatiuk said.
Mentoring across the profession
In addition to mentors in clinical and academic settings, nurses also mentor each other in professional associations.
The Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses recently introduced a members-only, two-year mentoring program, which matches experienced mentors with mentees. The goal is to facilitate member’s career growth and leadership development.
Ramón Lavandero, RN, MA, MSN, FAAN, senior director of communications and strategic alliances for the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and a clinical associate professor at Yale University School of Nursing in New Haven, Conn., said mentoring is embedded in the fabric of the association’s community of nurses. The organization has a formal process for newly elected board members, and chapter advisors offer mentorship to local leaders.
“Mentorship ranges from coaching on leadership development and succession planning to problem solving challenging situations,” Lavandero said. “A newer chapter known for its innovative activities may mentor an experienced chapter that wants to explore new direction.”
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