Experts agree that mentoring is vital to your professional and personal development as a nurse. Good mentoring can lead to getting into—and through—nursing school, getting a great job, and getting into graduate school. However, as a minority nursing student or nurse, you may have little experience being a mentee and have many questions. Questions like: How do you approach a person you would like to have as a mentor? Do you only need one mentor? How do you know if you have a good mentor? Some minority nursing students and nurses have had mentors of the same culture or ethnicity as you and you may feel uncomfortable asking a nurse, instructor, or professor from an ethnicity or culture different from yours to be your mentor. The following tips may help you find a mentor and set the foundation for a rewarding mentee-mentor experience.
How do I know if I need a mentor?
All of us need a mentor. A mentor is an experienced person that advises you as you work to accomplish a goal or guides you through your education or career. As a nurse, there are many benefits to having a mentor. One benefit of having a nurse mentor is having someone who is impartial and can listen to you and give you direction. When your mentor shares their knowledge and experiences with you, you gain knowledge and insight. Thus, you can make choices, decide to gather more information, or even seek the advice of another mentor. Another benefit of having a mentor is often they will extend their network to you to help you. Many nurse mentors are willing to introduce you to other nurses that may be of assistance to you. For example, your mentor is a cardiology nurse and you are interested in going back to school to become an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP). If your mentor knows one, they may often put you in touch with the AGNP because they cannot answer the types of questions you have about becoming one.
Many nursing students and nurses have more than one nurse mentor. You can have an all-round mentor, an education mentor, and one that is career specific, one that is research specific, and one that is a mentor in your practice specialty. You can have as many mentors as you need. It is better to find a mentor early in your nursing education or soon after you graduate because mentors are excellent recommendation writers for jobs or school because your mentor has listened to you talk about your aspirations and goals and can write about what they know about you.
The person I would like as my mentor is of an ethnicity or culture different from mine. Can that work?
Absolutely! In nursing, it can be very hard to find a mentor that is of your ethnicity or culture. It is perfectly fine to ask what has been their experience mentoring a person from a background different from theirs, what they learned, and what the challenges were. Keep in mind that you are deciding if this nurse will be a good mentor for you so ask what you need to know so you can make an informed decision.
How do I approach someone I would like to have as a mentor?
Before you approach your prospective mentor, think about or write down why you would like to have them as your mentor. It does not have to be elaborate. It could be that you aspire to be like them and you want to get their advice. It could be that you are interested in the type of nursing practice or research they do, and you want to shadow or work with them. Whatever your reason is, make sure you can concretely express it. Your potential mentor wants to know how they can help you. Remember, mentors are agreeing to share their time with you and they do not want to waste your time either.
Next, you should contact them by sending an email or calling them. When you contact them, you should let them know what you want and why. After an email response or call, you should ask to meet with them to begin the mentor-mentee relationship. This meeting can be over the phone if meeting face-to-face is not possible. This meeting is important for the two of you to get to know each other.
They have agreed to be my mentor! How do I prepare for our first meeting?
There are three goals for your first meeting. One is to have your mentor get to know you; the second is for you to get to know your mentor; and the third is to define your mentee-mentor relationship. In some cases, where a deadline or project is involved, a timeline may be necessary—and that is your fourth goal. There is no way for you to know everything about your mentor and for them to know you in one meeting. The important topics should include: where you are from, why you chose nursing, your goals and aspirations, and why you believe your mentor can help you. You should ask those same questions and add a question about why they choose their nursing career path, and their current goals and aspirations. Having this conversation is an excellent way for you and your mentor to connect and begin to build the foundation of a good mentee-mentor relationship.
Defining the mentee-mentor relationship should be the focal point of the first meeting because it establishes the foundation of your interactions. It defines what you want from the relationship and leads to the discussion on how to make your mentee-mentor relationship work for you both. There are three areas to cover in defining the relationship; the first is deciding whether the mentee-mentor relationship is formal or informal. An informal relationship does not require much work. Usually a verbal agreement to stay in touch with some regularity and the person agreeing to be your mentor is enough for an informal mentee-mentor relationship. A formal mentorship is usually in writing because it usually entails a project or deadline. Mentee-mentor relationships can go from being informal to formal and from formal to informal. Communication between the two of you is essential to navigating that part of the relationship.
Second, you need to decide how often you are going to meet. In informal relationships, this could be as needed or once a month. In a formal relationship, the frequency of meetings is often defined by what the project or deadline is.
Third, you must decide what type of meetings you are going to have and how long will they be. Again, in an informal relationship that may not be necessary as you will not be meeting frequently, and you can set the length of the meeting as it fits you and your mentor’s schedule. In the case of a formal relationship where regular meetings are necessary, the length of the meetings are important so that the appropriate amount of time can be set aside. In a formal mentoring relationship, an agenda or key discussion items are sent to your mentor in advance of the meeting. The agenda helps keeps you both on target.
In the case of most formal relationships, a documented timeline (i.e., a beginning and end) of the relationship or project is established. In establishing a timeline, you incorporate meeting dates, dates when you will send something to your mentor, and the timeframe when you should expect their feedback. When you do this step early in the relationship, it tends to keep everyone on task and on target. Of course, things happen, but it is important that each of you honor your formal agreement and renegotiate timelines as needed.
What do I do if my mentor is not a good fit for me?
Do not worry. Sometimes, the mentee-mentor match up does not work out as planned due to timing, different approaches, communication, and personality, among other things. Being an expert nurse, professor, or nurse researcher may not always mean that they will be a good mentor for you. If after your initial meeting or even after multiple meetings you find that you and your mentor are not a good fit, then the professional way to handle it is to end it. In the case of informal relationships, it is easier since there is no agreement for regular contact. However, it is best to thank your mentor for their time when you end the mentee-mentor relationship. In the case of a formal mentee-mentor relationship, a call, email, or letter is the most professional method to end it. Again, if you have spent time with your mentor, you should thank them for their time and what you state after that should be very professional, honest, and give at least one reason you no longer want to have a mentee-mentor relationship with that person. Keep in mind that if this is a person working in your career field that you do not want to “burn bridges,” so a scathing email or letter is not professional. When in doubt about what you have written, ask another trusted mentor or colleague.
How do I know I have found a good mentor?
Inc.com give us seven key qualities of an effective or good mentor. The seven key qualities are:
- Ability and willingness to communicate what they know. A good mentor is able to make complex concepts and issues easy (or easier) to understand. A good mentor is open to sharing all the “secrets” of success with you in an effort to help you succeed. You just have to be open to listening and learning.
- Preparedness. As a mentee, you should have an agenda or at least tell your mentor what you would like to discuss before you meet so that your mentor can be prepared. A prepared mentor has given thought to your questions or topic and is ready to have an efficient and directed conversation with you.
- Approachability, availability, and the ability to listen. As part of the first meeting, you as the mentee have set up dates and times with your mentor and your mentor should keep those commitments and be ready to listen.
- Honesty with diplomacy. A good mentor is going to be honest about whatever you are discussing. Being honest with you should be done in a professional and tactful manner, especially if your mentor is giving you feedback or critique.
- Inquisitiveness. Your mentor may know a lot, but that does not mean they know everything. A good mentor is willing to learn new things about you and new topics. In essence, a good mentor is a lifelong learner.
- Objectivity and fairness. A good mentor is looking forward to helping you succeed and that is it. There are no favors involved. Most often, your mentor may give you networking suggestions or offer to give you the name of a person who may be able to give additional support or a “foot in the door.” However, an expectation of a job or anything else because of the mentee-mentor relationship is not part of a mentee-mentor relationship. In the case where you and your mentor are working on a project, publication, or other work related items, the way your mentor will be acknowledged should be finalized before the project begins. For example, if you are a nursing student working on a research project you should know if you would be listed on a conference abstract or publication. If you are leading the project, you should ask your mentor how they would like to be recognized on the project.
- Compassion and genuineness. Essentially, your mentor should be a good person. Being honest, fair, and objective does not equal mean and cold. A good mentor listens when you are having difficulties and is happy when you succeed. A mentee-mentor relationship is not a friendship; you may not be Facebook friends or follow each other on Instagram. However, a good mentee-mentorship relationship comes awful close to a good friendship and over time, who knows?
Taking the first step to establish a mentee-mentor relationship is usually on the mentee. Like any relationship, a good mentee-mentor relationship takes planning and having clear expectations and goals for the relationship. For minority nursing students and nurses, finding the right mentor and having a productive mentee-mentor relationship can be a daunting task when you have not had previous mentee experience and there are very few minority nurses to select as mentors. However, understanding how to establish the mentee-mentor relationship may make it less daunting and even more fruitful to enhancing your nursing career.