By Kelly Phillips, feature writer
The first year as a new nurse can be such a trying time
that the worker may quit in frustration. That’s where nurse mentors can step
in to help set the young nurse on a path to a long-term career.
“Mentoring to me is having someone help guide you through
the ups and downs of what happens in nursing, especially in that first year,”
said Kathleen Reeves, MSN, RNC, clinical assistant professor at the University
of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and a clinical nurse specialist at
Methodist Healthcare System.
Reeves is the director of the Academy of Medical-Surgical
Nurses’ mentoring program, known as Nurses Nurturing Nurses or N3.
It pairs new nurses at facilities across the country with more experienced
nurses working in another department.
The program was aimed at finding a way to combat the high
rate of turnover during a new graduate’s first year on the job, especially in
the medical-surgical area, where the nurse may be assigned to several patients
with a variety of diagnoses.
“There’s still the same reality shock that you heard
about years and years ago,” Reeves said. “It’s not necessarily what they
expected. They get in an environment that sometimes is not seen as very
supporting and nurturing.”
The mentor nurses can help their charges know “that what
they’re going through is normal,” Reeves added, and be a sounding board when
the younger nurse has a concern or wants to relate a bad experience. It differs
from a preceptorship because there is no political relationship.
“There’s a lot of pressure on new graduates,” she
The mentor should communicate well, have a positive
attitude, be a role model, handle stress well and serve as an advocate for
patients as well as the mentee, Reeves explained.
Mentors should also be good listeners who can “guide, but
not direct,” and open doors, point out resources and help reflect on the
nursing practice and eventual career goals, said Cecelia Gatson Grindel, Ph.D.,
RN, CMSRN, and president-elect of AMSN. She formulated the evaluation piece of
the N3 program.
Having a new nurse leave—either the facility or the
career—in the first year is “very expensive and frustrating,” and “not a
good scene for anybody,” said Grindel, who is the associate director for undergraduate
programs at the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing at Georgia State University
“I think you have to mentor a new nurse not only to be an
expert nurse, but also to be aware of the whole arena of health care,” Grindel
That includes systems, policy, reimbursement and other
areas that affect the nursing practice as well as patient care, she said.
Mentoring can help a nurse grow beyond just working with
patients, and begin exploring new avenues to career development, Grindel said.
The relationship can help a new nurse “reflect not only
on the practice she’s learning,” but learn to evaluate leadership, seek
resources and otherwise grow as a professional, she added.
“The mentor can help them deal with the frustration,”
Without mentoring, the nursing shortage would be worse
“because the stress level will be too high for a new grad,” said Linda
Panter, RN, MSN, FNP, and assistant
professor at Alfred State College in Alfred, New York. She also runs the
Adopt-a-Nurse mentoring program for male nursing students there.
"Mentoring is also important to smooth the transition from student to RN,” Panter said in
an interview via e-mail.
A good facilitator is necessary for a successful mentoring program, Panter said.
“If you do not have someone frequently monitoring a program and keeping it positive,
the program will go down the tubes,” she said.
On-site mentoring can be important for even experienced
nurses learning a new job, said Karen Zander, RN, MS, CMAC, FAAN, co-owner of the Center for Case Management, a
health care consultant company. For a fee, the company provides mentors for
nurse managers and others, though that is not its main business.
Mentoring can be important for nurses because they rely on
their senses, Zander said.
“They really have very little tolerance for theory that
doesn’t apply directly to them,” she said. “They’re very pragmatic,
goal-directed people. You have to be there when they’re there.”
A nurse whose organization will pay for them to be mentored
“even for a half-day is a very lucky person,” Zander said.
For volunteer programs too, a hospital making a commitment
to mentoring “speaks highly of the facility itself,” Reeves said.
Sometimes, mentoring is more informal.
Reeves said she has had people refer to her as their mentor
when she didn’t realize she’d “had that kind of impact” on the person.
Grindel advised new nurses to prioritize facilities that
offer mentoring programs.
“Skip the sign-on bonus, get someone to help you make
it,” she said.
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