The Power of Mentors in Nursing and Healthcare

By Keith Carlson vai Multibriefs

Throughout a nurse's career, the potential for official and unofficial mentors to make a significant mark is high. Many nurses benefit from the wise presence of a mentor-like figure in their lives; some are less fortunate to never experience such a relationship.

Nurse mentors can pave the way to high-level nursing practice and empowered leadership, and they can be central to our overall professional success and personal fulfillment. We each have the innate freedom to serve as, and seek out, mentors when life allows for such a relationship to manifest.

Your mentor awaits

Mentors in nursing and healthcare come in many forms. Your mentor may be a stellar seasoned nurse whom you quietly emulate. Or your employer may assign a senior nurse to serve as an organizationally sanctioned mentor.

We must acknowledge that the person who serves as your mentor may have nothing to do with nursing whatsoever. A sponsor in a 12-step program or a wise older family member can indeed fulfill this role. Then again, your mentor may be a physician, a surgeon or perhaps a particularly courageous and articulate patient who changes the way you approach illness, suffering or death.

We can actively seek out a mentor, be assigned a mentor or discover one by happenstance and providence. For those lucky enough to be involved in a meaningful mentoring relationship, lives and careers may be permanently altered in the process.

The mentor's traits

A mentor must in essence have something to teach the mentee. In this regard, we can easily imagine a seasoned nurse mentoring a less experienced nurse. This is the mentoring dynamic that readily comes to mind.

However, the teacher/learner and mentor/mentee dynamic can sometimes be turned on its head in ways we might not expect. (For example, a child with terminal cancer may have something quite profound to impart to a nurse who is willing to perceive the lessons therein.)

No matter the above factors in terms of the nature of the mentor/mentee relationship, some traits of the most effective mentors include:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • A highly observant nature
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Relational intelligence
  • Approachability
  • Authenticity/genuineness
  • The ability to adjust teaching methods to the learner's natural preferred learning style (this is central to the learning of hard clinical skills)
  • The knack of simultaneously seeing the big picture and the minor details
  • An inspiring and supportive personality and style

Connecting mentors and mentees

Organizations can choose to create effective mentoring programs with the goal of pairing employees in a manner that strengthens relationships and cross-pollinates areas of expertise. Poorly planned mentoring programs can often be another group of tasks and checklists for nurses to complete before moving on. However, truly effective mentoring programs offer so much more.

In the absence of an official mentoring program, a nurse seeking a mentor can himself or herself request an esteemed colleague to assume that role. If such a relationship is formed, setting goals and verbalizing expectations is still important, despite the lack of organizational support or built-in structure.

As stated earlier, a nurse may simply quietly observe an admired colleague as a silent mentee and seek to emulate his or her behavior. However, that same nurse can summon the courage to request that the more experienced colleague engage with them as a true mentor. In the end, the nature of the relationship is secondary to the desired outcome.

Seek and you shall find

Not everyone needs a mentor, and not everyone can serve in such a capacity. However, for those who enjoy this type of rich relationship based on learning, sharing and support, there is much gold to mine.

For the willing mentee, a world of opportunity and personal and professional growth can result from an effective and powerful mentor/mentee relationship. And for those doing such important work in the world, the sky's the limit when it comes to the wonderful learning that can result.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway and a widely read freelance nurse writer. Keith is also the co-host of RNFM Radio, a popular Internet radio station devoted to the nursing profession. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.


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