Leadership—it’s the Holy Grail that’s stressed in business and health care administration. But how can you get there? And how do you know if nursing leadership is even right for you?
“Not everyone has the skills, desire, or disposition to be an administrative leader,” says Laura S. Scott, PCC, CPC, ELI-MP, CPDFA, president and founder of 180 Coaching, an executive coaching and leadership training provider based in Tampa, Florida. “I recommend that my clients go to a trusted supervisor and ask, ‘Where do you see me going as a professional and leader?’ and then just listen. You might be surprised at what you hear. If you have a role in mind, ask that trusted supervisor if they think you would be a good fit for that role and ask, ‘Why or why not?’”
Use caution when thinking about getting into leadership. “Don’t rush into what isn’t easily seen as an opportunity,” says Alisha Cornell, DNP, MSN, RN, a clinical consultant with Relias, a health care talent and performance solutions company. To decide whether a leadership role is right for them and what they want get out of it, Cornell says that self-exploration is necessary. “How did the nurses identify that they even wanted to be nurses? My recommendations are to stick to the original design. Whatever got you to nursing school and whatever helped to push you out of there, that’s your personalized equation.”
If you’re not sure if you want to be a leader, Romeatrius Nicole Moss, DNP, RN, APHN-BC, founder and CEO of Black Nurses Rock, says, “First, it is determined by the specialty you enjoy, followed by what you can contribute. Leadership starts now, as a staff nurse.” She suggests you ask yourself these questions:
Do people often come to you for help, advice?
Do you offer suggestions at meetings?
Are you the go-to person for issues on the unit before elevation to leadership?
Are you available, outgoing, approachable?
“If you are the unit leader, charge nurse, etc., these positions are set up to move you to the [higher] levels when opportunities arise,” explains Moss. “So be ready.”
If you know that you aspire to a leadership position, then move ahead. If you don’t or you try a leadership role and don’t like it, that’s okay. “If you don’t like nursing leadership, you can always go back to patient care,” says Thomas Uzuegbunem, BSN, RN, an RN administrative supervisor as well as the editor of the nursing leadership blog, NurseMoneyTalk.com. “Some nurses can get enough leadership fulfillment by being on a board. Others find that it’s not enough, and they want to move into nursing leadership as a career.”
Make sure that after self-reflection, you are the one making the decision to move into a leadership position. “Nurses who are seen as good caregivers are often promoted. While patient care is extremely important, being able to care for a patient does not mean that a nurse can care for a team of peers,” explains Bill Prasad, LPC, LCDC, CTC, a licensed professional counselor who has also worked as a hospital director and a leadership coach. “A nurse must understand that moving to a leadership role means you are moving from a focus on health care to a focus on organizational health.”
If that doesn’t fit in your life goals, there’s no shame in not pursuing leadership or moving into management. Yanick D. Joseph, RN, MPA, MSN, EdD, an assistant professor of nursing at Montclair State University in New Jersey sums it up: “Not everyone is destined to lead or to be an administrator,” she says.
Skills and Characteristics Needed for Nursing Leadership
“Leaders are born, but there are no born leaders,” says Prasad. “Becoming an effective leader takes training and education. Without this, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Communication, flexibility, and organizational skills are the most important skills that Moss believes nurses wanting to move to leadership need to have. “Leaders should have the skills that allow them to be calm in stressful situations such as in crisis, emergencies, schedule management, and more,” she says. Nurses also need the “ability to work with different personalities and change leadership styles based on the staff member. Nurses should understand this even while working with their teams: you cannot use the same leadership style on everyone. Some people do better with taskers and checklists, while others need a little supervision to flourish.”
Moss says that leaders must be relatable and personable. “Allow your staff to see you get your hands dirty. Be the expert on the unit/department and show the team your skills and that you can handle the unit if need be. Start IVs, jump in on a code, participate while letting your team lead.”
One other characteristic Moss believes is imperative for nurses who want to lead is to be calm when challenged or with disagreements. “It is important to understand differences of opinion and to negotiate the best options. It’s even more important when dealing with difficult staff, family, etc. to not get emotional and to always be open-minded.” She admits that this was tough for her when she began to lead. “I had to understand the different personalities, politics, and overall strategic plan, and how they all come into play with decision making. Once you get this, your life will become less stressful,” she explains.
Scott agrees that good communication skills are crucial. “Effective communication and opening the channels for two-way feedback is very important. Also important is knowing what keeps these staff and providers on board and engaged so that you can give them what they need to stay motivated and fulfilled,” says Scott.
When communicating with others, Cornell says to keep this in mind: “Nurses are well-versed in the scientific methods of providing care from an academic perspective, but relating to ourselves, learning to listen for the conversation instead of solving a problem, and not reacting spontaneously are all critical skills of a strong leader.”
Nurses also need to be patient and have courage. “These characteristics are important because the normal job responsibilities of the nurse require quick thinking and paying attention to details. However, being a great leader requires the brain to slow down and digest the information in order to resolve a problem or at least know where to look to resolve it,” says Cornell.
Nurse leaders, Uzuegbunem says, must have an ability to accept diversity and understand technology. “Nurse leaders must be able to embrace diversity and adapt to those cultural differences of the nurses they lead as well as the patients the nurses take care of,” says Uzuegbunem. “Technology is having more of an influence in health care. From electronic medical records to the equipment nurses use. [Leaders] need to be able to adapt to these technological changes.”
While our sources have different opinions on how much education leaders need, one thing is certain: if you want to hold a leadership position, you must keep learning all the time.
“Nurses need to obtain additional education, certifications, and always continue to have a thirst for knowledge,” says Cornell. “A nurse leader should have, at minimum, a master’s degree in a focused area of nursing.” While she says other advanced degrees are helpful, one focused specifically on nursing “drives the objectives of nurse leadership and the shared experiences of nurse leaders. At the advanced leadership level—which includes directors and CNOs, they should have a doctorate. The terminal degree is a collaborative journey of nursing experience and leadership needed to facilitate a structured systems approach to patient care and organization of nursing teams.”
“A nurse aspiring a position in leadership should attain the highest level above what the unit or department requires,” suggests Moss. “Managing nurses who have higher credentials could lead to resentment or turnover as the staff nurse doesn’t see progression at the top. A unit should be led by the expert, in my opinion, the go-to person. This person should obtain the needed certification, education, and training to support this.”
Scott reminds nurses to check to see if the facility you work for provides funding for earning advanced education. “Many hospital groups will offer tuition reimbursement to qualified candidates, so you don’t have to go into deep debt to get this education,” she says.
Uzuegbunem believes that there’s no set educational path to leadership. “Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different answers. Some will say that nurses should have at least a BSN before being able to get into leadership. I don’t. I also don’t think a certification is needed. All that’s required is a desire to lead others and a willingness to serve those you lead,” he argues.
Money, Money, Money
Besides the other skills, characteristics, and education that prospective leaders need, there’s another that many don’t consider—financial knowledge. Jane C. Kaye, MBA, president of HealthCare Finance Advisors, states that nurses in supervisory positions in all types of health care facilities need to have some financial skills. “The financial health of health care organizations depends on how well nurse leaders manage staff and supply costs. For example, salaries are the single largest expense line in any health care facility, and nurses represent the largest share of salaries. Similarly, nurses lead large departments such as surgical services, where supply costs are very high. If salary and supply costs are not managed, the sheer size of these spending areas can jeopardize the financial health of the health care entity,” explains Kaye.
According to Kaye, the types of financial skills nurse leaders need include: management of full-time equivalent staff, management of supplies, expense variance analysis techniques, knowledge of budgets, an understanding of operating statistics, and an understanding charge capture techniques so that all services performed are included on the patients’ bills.
For nurses who don’t have good math and finance skills, Kaye suggests that they find a trusted colleague in finance to help them understand financial concepts. “They should never be afraid to ask questions,” she says.
Attending webinars, seminars, and workshops on finance may also help.
A good way to prepare for a nursing leadership role, says Scott, is by taking on leadership roles outside of work. For those who want to become more confident speakers and grow in leadership presence, she recommends looking into Toastmasters, a national organization with chapters across the U.S. that help members learn to give great speeches.
Cornell says that networking is a must but can begin way before nurses are even considering leadership roles. “Knowing colleagues in the industry is always a plus, and it helps to learn what other nurses are doing. Volunteering for committees and sitting on boards are all great experiences, and nurse leaders should participate in these activities,” says Cornell. She cautions that doing this should be fine. If it’s not what the nurse is aligned with liking or doing then s/he will lose interest fast.
“Becoming part of committees and boards allows you to gain the experience and confidence you need to speak out on your opinions, work with different personalities, and see your strengths and weaknesses,” says Moss. “It can really show you what type of leader you naturally are.”
To prepare for taking a leadership role, Joseph suggests the following: reading professional journals, attending seminars, networking, joining LinkedIn, researching the role you want, reaching out to professional organizations for best practices, speaking to a mentor or someone who has made the transition, being proactive and enthusiastic about learning the intricacies of the new role, and being visible.
No matter what, being true to yourself is most important. “Being a leader is challenging, arduous, demanding, trying, and hard,” says Joseph. “But the joy of doing what you are born to do and have a passion to accomplish is indescribable.”
Evidence-Based Leadership, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Nursing and Healthcare
This application-based text is designed to cultivate nursing and healthcare leaders who embrace the demands and opportunities of today’s health care environment, which is rooted in innovation.
Nursing education is the foundational pillar that enables future nurses to become competent and knowledgeable in their respective practices. This education was normally provided to nursing students through various didactic theoretical lectures and practical clinical training but recently, the use of advanced simulation technology as an adjunct educational tool has slowly become a significant addition to student centric learning.
History of Simulation
The concept of simulation practice can be traced back to the fields of military, aviation, and nuclear power (with military having used simulation the longest), dating back to the 18th century. Simulation was initially created as a cost-effective strategy for training professionals because it was considered exorbitant to train in these areas in the real world. As the years progressed however, the healthcare profession realized the practicality and usefulness of incorporating advanced simulation technology into educational practice and as a result, spurred the growing movement of simulation in healthcare training settings and educational establishments around the world.
The Impact of Simulation on Nursing Students
The emergence of computer technology has led to the development of innovative tools for healthcare professionals such as simulation technology and patient simulators Simulation technologies have had a profound effect on the nursing profession because it allows nursing students to apply their recently learned skills and knowledge to solve real life scenarios in a safe and structured setting.
In a typical simulation session, two students are often asked to participate and mimic the roles of a registered nurse or a certified nurse assistant (CNA). The rest of the remaining students are then asked to go to a separate room and observe the scenario through a one-way mirror and a live video stream. At the start of the session, the facilitator usually gives report on the patient, which allows the students to familiarize themselves with the patient’s situation, history, charts, and medications in order to successfully manage and implement high quality nursing care for the patient. As the simulation progresses, the facilitator controls the patient’s prognosis and provides cues to the team to enhance the realism of the situation. Once the simulation is completed, the students are then asked to head back to the debriefing room to discuss their experiences.
During the debriefing session, the students learn through self-reflection, group interaction, and questions asked by the facilitator. The use of group discussion engages students in reflective learning and enables the group members to consider a situation from multiple perspectives and consider other alternatives in order to broaden their scope of practice and clinical understanding. By performing simulation scenarios on a regular basis, students are able to develop better critical thinking skills, decision-making abilities, and application of theoretical knowledge in real-life situations.
Facilitating Simulation into Nursing Practice
According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), approximately 98,000 people die every year from medical errors in U.S. hospitals, and a significant number of those deaths are associated with medication errors. This means that adverse events affect nearly 1 of 10 patients in the hospital setting. Based on this staggering number, the IOM called for a systematic change in healthcare practices and identified simulation practice as a resource to address the needed reform. By fostering experiential learning, simulation ingrains good nursing habits early, while discouraging bad nursing habits from forming before it becomes second nature.
In addition to allowing individuals to hone their nursing skills, simulation has also proven to increase student confidence and self-efficacy once they transition into the clinical setting. Nursing efficacy is an important aspect in nursing practice because it gives the students the confidence required to provide excellent nursing care to their patients. By incorporating what they have learned in simulation, more students are self-reliant in their capabilities, which are invaluable in ensuring that patient safety is implemented in the hospital setting.
Implications for Future Nursing Practice and Further Study
The shortage of availability of clinical sites is quickly becoming the norm for many nursing schools due to changing healthcare reform and the struggling economic crisis. One solution to combat the shortage of clinical sites however is to utilize simulation practice to replicate essential aspects of clinical situations for beginning nursing students. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing is currently conducting a landmark, longitudinal study to examine the knowledge and clinical competency outcomes of students when simulation technology is used in the place of actual clinical experiences. Although calls for additional research in these areas need to be performed, simulation is still quickly gaining momentum as the gold standard for effective learning practice in nursing education.
During the last three months, I had the opportunity and privilege to participate in a work program that collaboratively raises standards for learning and teaching, leading students to the highest levels of engagement and success. This was an eye-opening experience, allowing me to evaluate my own teaching practices in higher education and giving me additional tools to be more adventurous as I continue on with my role in academia.
Here are my five takeaways from the experience:
1. Make sure your students are actively learning enough.
Current evidence in higher learning no longer supports the effectiveness of sole lectures in the classroom setting. Instead, increase use of Active Learning Strategies (ALS) in the classroom setting to offer improved student learning and outcomes. Examples of ALS include: Minute Paper, Think-Pair-Share, Small and Large Groups, Role Playing, Storytelling, etc. One of the biggest student complaints with ALS is the idea that students are teaching themselves. When properly implemented, ALS helps to initiate learners and faculties into effective ways to help learners engage in activities that encourage deep learning.
2. Traditional “lecturing” still has a place in the classroom.
Many educators are considered the “experts” and offer a wealth of knowledge when they step foot in their classrooms. Most of us are familiar with traditional lectures in the classroom setting, where we had a professor “lecture” for hours in front of the classroom. However, many can argue that these professors are not necessarily “Sages on the Stage” but rather “Bores at the Board” for the majority of the time. Do not forget that higher education encourages educators to be more “Guides on the Sides” and become facilitators of student learning as they guide them from the sideline. Whichever method you choose to do in the classroom, you must be humble enough to accept if certain practices require tweaking for improvement.
3. Preparing the adult brain for learning: Evidence has shown that deep learning requires the adult brain learner to be primed.
But how does one prepare the brain to be at the optimal state in which the learner is alert and focused on learning? Several techniques have been noted to help students learn best, including but not limited to: Breathing Exercises, Nutrition, Music, Aroma, and Visualization. All these techniques work in various ways, but more importantly can help in how the adult brain is able to process information. How are you helping prepare your students for learning?
4. Technology belongs in the classroom.
Imagine a classroom without technology… For most of us, this can be very strange, as we are surrounded by technology on a regular basis. And our students are ALWAYS using technology, whether they are using laptops or tablets to take notes or their own personal devices (mobile phones) to stay in touch with their social media world. We must embrace that technology is here to stay, and figure out better solutions in including them in the classroom setting.
5. As educators, we must also be willing to learn (from peers and our own students).
Just because we have completed our studies and are now educators does not preclude us from learning new things. We must never cease to inquire and acquire knowledge. If anything, being an educator challenges us to be the best that we can possibly be for the students that we serve.
What has been your experience with student learning, both good and bad? Please share your own experiences, as I want to better myself as an educator. To be able to meet the students from where they are at, and take them on their own educational journey!
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, only 2.1% of deans and directors are 45 years of age or younger. Further, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a large percentage of senior nursing faculty members and Academic Nurse Administrators (ANAs) will retire over the next decade, and half are likely to retire by 2020. While experienced ANAs are retiring or resigning, formal mentoring for incoming Novice Academic Nurse Administrators (NANAs) remains relatively absent. Few nurses or nursing faculty fully grasp the complex responsibilities of this position. Typically, ANAs preside over the perpetual cycle of nursing student admission, academic progression, student attrition, and graduations. The specific roles and legal responsibilities of ANAs are outlined by each state in their state nurse practice act. Most programs are offered in community colleges or universities.
Regardless of the location or type of nursing educational program, ANAs are responsible for the majority of decisions made regarding the legal operations of these programs. Ultimately, ANAs are critical to the delivery, operations, and sustainability of nursing education and ultimately to the perseverance of the nursing profession. Unfortunately, formal nursing educational programs seldom address the daunting operational challenges that ANAs—and particularly NANAs—face when attempting to meet the expectations of this role transition. Consequently, vacancies loom across the nation, creating an urgent need for retention through formal mentoring.
Significant Challenges for ANAs
Experienced and novice ANAs are responsible for their nursing program’s state approval through accreditation. This lengthy endeavor requires at least one year of advanced preparation. State accreditation for pre-licensure nursing programs includes a program self-study and program evaluation, generally under severe time constraints. Accreditation topics under review include a total program evaluation plan, sufficiency of resources, appropriate administration, nursing faculty, nursing content experts, curriculum assessment, adequate clinical facilities, demonstration of student engagement, and a self-study summary. Additional responsibilities include monitoring the program’s National Council of Licensure Examination for Registered Nursing (NCLEX-RN) pass rates, sustaining student enrollment, maintaining nursing faculty stability, retaining program accreditation, and remaining fiscally sound despite varying degrees of institutional rigidity. Seasoned ANAs recognize that the terminal goal for each nurse graduate is to successfully pass the NCLEX-RN exam and thus earn state registered nursing licensure.
For ANAs, policymaking occurs continuously. Issues are brought to administration and faculty for exploration of the necessity to make or change policies to ensure that educational and nursing practice standards are current, and to change policies when they are not. Changes are also generated by requirements of affiliating health care agencies, university, college, and statewide policy recommendations that require extensive institutional buy-in and support. Many ANAs exert great efforts to receive institutional and faculty support in the operations of their nursing programs. A 2014 study in Nursing Education Perspectives found that among 242 ANAs, factors associated with job dissatisfaction included a lack of institutional support, mentorship, recognition, and respect. Furthermore, over a decade ago, it was reported that aging, bullying, and stress correlated with increased vacancies among all ANAs. In a current online survey of nursing faculty from 12 of the 15 highest-ranked universities, 22.5% reported not having a mentor, most (61.2%) found mentors on their own, and only 16.3% had formally assigned mentors. Overall, studies have revealed that the most helpful role transition experiences came from mentoring (53.5%), while (30.2%) came from work experiences, strongly indicating the need for formal mentoring.
Formal Mentoring Praxis
In Integrated Theory & Knowledge Development in Nursing, authors Peggy Chinn and Maeona Kramer define praxis as the integration of knowing: empirical, ethical, aesthetic, personal, and emancipatory concepts. In formal mentoring, experienced ANA mentors will apply their integration of knowing through mentorship of NANAs with the following conceptual guidelines:
Empirical: Use of a practical and pragmatic approach to mentoring
Ethical: Addresses the legal issues affecting nursing education
Aesthetic: Sharing of creative artistic diagrams, charts, and visual aids
Personal: Storytelling of lessons learned as an experienced ANA
Emancipatory: Supporting the independence and growth of the mentee
Critical Social Theory (CST) and NANA Mentoring
Critical social theorists aim to aid in the process of progressive social change by identifying not only what is, but also identifying the existing (explicit and implicit) ideals of any given situation and analyzing the gap between what is and what might and ought to be. In Advances in Nursing Science, P.E. Stevens identified six tenets of CST. Three of the six tenets of CST have important underpinnings to the praxis of leadership mentoring for NANAs. The first tenet examines the academic institutions’ social, political, and economic influence on the development of a formal NANAs mentoring program. The second seeks to reduce invisible oppressive institutional rigidity found in an academic environment while the third seeks to provide formal mentoring that emancipates and liberates the NANAs leadership potential.
Strategy and Implementation
Following the attendance of a formal mentoring workshop, ANAs would be assigned to mentor NANAs for one year. The three tenets of CST would serve as guides for the ANAs mentoring endeavors. Informed by CST and the praxis (integration of knowing), ANAs will share knowledge beyond empirics to more aesthetic, ethical, personal, and emancipatory patterns. The ANA mentor and NANA mentee would agree upon a formal mentoring schedule of two-hour weekly meetings to address specific nursing program director related topics, such as:
Faculty to Director Role Transition
Compliance with the State Nurse Practice Act
Program Directors Manuals/Handbooks
Maintaining State Program Accreditation
Writing of Policies and Procedures
Seeking Institutional Support
Handbooks (Student & Faculty)
Ethical and Legal Issues
Hiring and Orientation of New Staff and faculty
Collegiality Among Stakeholders
New Student Orientations
New Student Admissions
Student Essential Behaviors
NANAs Scholarly Expectations
Director & Faculty Professional Development
This formal mentoring program design aims to report positive post survey responses in job satisfaction and retention among NANAs. It is intended to create scholarly academic dialogue to explore the implementation of this mentoring model for NANAs. Future research and discussion will focus on the qualitative experiences of the ANAs mentors’ roles and NANAs mentees as participants. The provision of the CST as a framework for the praxis of formal mentoring guides ANAs in their mentoring endeavors. The success of a praxis leadership mentoring model can facilitate enhanced role transition and increased retention among NANAs.
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.
Nine years ago, I was so happy to have my first article published in Minority Nurse. The article was a discussion on whether or not it’s OK to be out at work as a gay person. Looking back at the changes I’ve seen over this time period, I decided to put together a few thoughts.
The county hospital where I work is rolling out some new intake questions for our electronic health record system. The impetus is to better serve our LGBTQ patients. A transgender person with residual breast tissue did not know he could still get breast cancer. An MTF person developed prostate cancer. These patients slipped through the cracks because they lived their true self but had body parts susceptible to illness that the caregiver was not aware of. By next month, we hope to have 10% of our patients properly classified using our new Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) questions. As the program rolls out, we will capture more and more of our population so caregivers can better serve them.
As a gay man in my 50s, I have seen great changes in my lifetime on LGBTQ issues. There was a time when just being out was a danger. But we bring some unique perspectives to our job that shouldn’t be overlooked. We know what it’s like to be the underdog. We cherish family because we worked so hard to have our families recognized. Respect for minorities come easily to us because we have suffered discrimination. Fairness in treatment under the law was not free for us or other minorities so we always strive to protect our patients’ rights. We know that being gay does not give you AIDS, but we also know what those risk factors are and we are able to educate our patients on the facts without judgement.
Now that we are rolling out a campaign to identify our patients’ unique needs regarding sexual health, reproductive issues, and mental health, we are working to destigmatize these issues in our community. Just asking these questions can be a litmus test of our own feelings. When the program was being explained in an employee meeting, there was pushback. “Our patients will be insulted.” Or, “Our patients won’t understand the terms.”
It occurred to me that we might be projecting our own feelings and, in some cases ignorance, onto our patients. Of course, there are what seem like valid issues when trying to tease this information out of patients in the geriatric clinic. My feeling is that you just throw the questions out there and you get what you get. The elderly are just as much part of the world as the young (and in between).I can’t wait to get some real world experience in asking these questions:
What is the sex on your original birth certificate?
What is your gender identity?
What is your sexual orientation?
Some explanation might be needed with some patients. Sexual identity is not your sexual orientation. Sexual identity cannot be inferred from your birth certificate. We are looking forward to the rollout but with a bit of trepidation because we are not used to asking such personal questions. But,if you want to better serve this population, you have to identify them. The FTM person who never got a breast cancer screening because his caregivers never informed him of the risk—that can be preventable with better understanding of our patients. More information is better than less.
I take away two points from the SOGI questions that excite me. The first is that caregivers are going to be more aware of the disparities in health care that can occur with our LGBTQ patients. We are charged with the care of all our patients, not just the ones that fit into neat boxes. Just being aware of the differences makes us stop to weigh implications that might have been missed in the past. The second is that by normalizing this conversation, both patients and caregivers can talk openly about a subject that was once taboo. It’s OK to be gay or lesbian, FTM, MTF, something in between, or nothing at all. We all have health care needs.
Annette Smith, a nurse and coworker with 35 years of experience, has insight into changes in practice like the new SOGI questions: “At the beginning, there is a lot of pushback. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. But after a while, the process becomes normalized and it’s not a big deal anymore. We end up wondering what all the fuss was about!”
There was a time when just talking about sexual orientation was not even considered. Now we are required to ask! This destigmatizes the whole subject. To revisit my first question: It should never be a question of whether it’s right or wrong to be out at work. It’s just a question of you being comfortable enough in your own skin to let other people know.