As a hard-working and successful nursing professional examining your career, you might reflect on your nurse mentor. The person who inspired, guided, advised, and kept you on the straight and narrow path, and ask yourself if you’ve ever been one yourself.
Was there someone who took you under their wing? Was there an individual who counseled you on your choice of master’s degree program? Did a colleague serve as an example of the kind of nurse you aspired to be? And if you’re a new nurse and can’t make heads or tails of this new career, where have you turned for guidance?
Sometimes, a mentor appears when you least expect it, and sometimes, you proactively go out and find one. Either way, the mentoring relationship can be life-changing, which sets you on the course of greater success, satisfaction, and confidence.
Mentors are Everywhere
Mentors are everywhere and can be sources of great inspiration who utilize their personal and professional experience as examples for others.
However, mentors are distinct from preceptors. A preceptor is a nurse you’re paired with to learn the ropes of a particular position or unit. Being precepted means that you’re being shown the ropes of where things are and how things are done. Mentors offer broader professional guidance; although they may be employed by the same institution where you work, that isn’t always the case.
According to Johnson and Johnson, where they match nurse mentees and mentors in hopes that these relationships will empower them to reach greater heights in their careers, “When you’re thinking about a potential mentor, you’ll obviously want someone you like and look up to. But it can be even better if they have skills that apply to your own career goals.”
And for the mentor, J&J states, “Sharing your experience with a new nurse can make all the difference to their career and help create a new generation of confident and well-prepared nurses.”
The American Nurses Association (ANA) is also a strong proponent of mentoring, outlining the many benefits of this special relationship for both the mentee and the mentor. Benefits may include:
- Receiving honest feedback from a seasoned professional and role model.
- Learning from generational differences.
- Giving back to the next generation of nurses.
- Gaining insight into a particular specialty or career path.
Finding a Mentor
Some institutions have official mentoring programs. While this may be rare, there are pros and cons to this type of situation. The required documentation can sometimes be so burdensome that it detracts from the creativity the pair could otherwise cultivate if left to their own devices.
Johnson and Johnson’s Nurse Innovation Fellowship matches teams of nurse fellows with successful nurse experts to solve real-world problems using human-centered design thinking principles. J&J’s Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge provides nurse innovators with grants and mentorship to bring their ideas to fruition.
The ANA offers a mentoring program that matches volunteer mentors with new nurse mentees seeking guidance and support as they launch their careers.
If joining an official mentoring program isn’t available to you or your cup of tea, there are plenty of ways to find one on your own.
There may be a nurse in your life whom you admire and would give anything to follow in their footsteps. You may be inspired by their work, accomplishments, and successes, or simply for the kind of person they are.
Aside from people you know, there’s also the riskier option: approaching someone you don’t know. You may encounter someone you admire at a conference, on LinkedIn, or through networking. While it may feel scarier to ask a stranger to be your mentor, taking that risk could lead to amazing things.
If you choose to approach someone about being your mentor, keep several things in mind:
- Make sure they know that you greatly value their time and expertise
- Come to them with a specific problem or issue that you’d like to tackle
- Outline your initial goals for the relationship
- Offer for the mentoring relationship to be time-limited (e.g., perhaps 3-6 months)
When you set parameters from the outset, the mentor knows you respect their time and expertise. And there’s always the possibility that the relationship may last much longer than initially proposed, including budding into a lifelong friendship.
The Magic of Mentoring
Mentoring can be magical for both the mentee and the mentor. Camaraderie, inspiration, friendship, professional connection, and mutual learning can all result.
While the relationship is by and large about the mentee learning from the mentor, there can be plenty in it for the mentor, too. After all, the mentee is human with their own experiences, skills, and knowledge, and the mentor may come out of the relationship equally enriched.
Every relationship has risks, advantages, and potential downsides, but the mentor-mentee relationship can be a highly inspiring experience for all involved.
If you’re interested in taking your nursing career to the next level, becoming professionally re-inspired, or launching a special project, engaging the support and guidance of a mentor may be just what the nurse ordered.