Every nurse has a unique story to tell about their education and training. Many nurses feel that they were nurtured and taught to be independent with confidence. Others report that they were forced to learn on their own and forced to be independent without the support of a senior nurse. As a result, there is no continuity in the real-life training with regards to nurse mentoring.
Initial training accompanied by effective mentoring can form one into an exemplary nurse. However, there is a clear distinction between a preceptor and a mentor. Mentors can have a vital impact on new nurses. A preceptor lacks the relationship that a mentor has with a new nurse.
According to Barker (2006), “Mentoring is a process designed to bridge the gap between the educational process and the real-world experience” (p. 56). This is the best explanation of the function of a mentor in a new nurses’ training. It is a relationship that develops as a result of trust, guidance, and respect.
Mentoring is a collaborative process that should be incorporated into a nursing curriculum. When should this mentoring be introduced? Should it begin prior to graduation or after it?
It would be beneficial to have mentoring incorporated into the nursing curriculum. Incorporating mentorship into undergraduate nursing programs will introduce effective mentoring skills that can be built upon and used after graduation. Effective mentoring will have a positive effect on the nursing discipline overall. Nurses have a responsibility to uphold a code of conduct, care for others, ensure the safety of all, and continue the legacy of nursing into the future.
A personal philosophy of nursing can dictate how a seasoned nurse provides training. One must understand the history of nursing theory, the components of the traditional nursing metaparadigm, and be able to identify how both intersect to be an effective mentor.
A philosophy of nursing is established over time. According to Meleis (2012), it is “…a distinct discipline in its own right, and all disciplines can claim their own philosophical bases that form guidelines for their goals” (p. 28). A unique feature of nursing is that one’s personal philosophy is derived from a succinct theoretical foundation that intertwines with one’s personal beliefs, values, and experience.
It is important to articulate a philosophy of nursing for application in practice. It enables one to evaluate and analyze their own thought processes to provide effective mentoring while training new nurses.
Moral and Ethical Issues
When evaluating morality or ethical dilemmas in nursing, it is easy to make assumptions that generations of nurses are not willing to share experiential knowledge. Withholding pertinent information is unethical and immoral, and could have a negative impact on the patient’s, the new nurses’, or the institution’s reputation. New nurses are not being nurtured or allowed the same resources that senior nurses have been previously provided. This results in lack of trust and does not meet the standards of the nursing discipline.
Ethics is an essential part of the nursing curriculum and helps nurses stay grounded in every day practice. According to Hunick (2009), “Ethics education must therefore, be grounded in the everyday practices of nurses, paying attention to their development as moral agents within the contextual and relational influences shaping them” (p. 487).
How do we effectively mentor new nurses and are we doing our best? First and foremost, seasoned nurses must be knowledgeable of nursing theory for practical application. Nurses must ascertain what the ethical code of conduct is for the nursing profession and actually put it into practice daily. It is then important for a senior nurse to have expert critical thinking skills as well as patience, and the ability to communicate well with others.
When training new nurses, it is possible that identified valuable traits are absent. The absence of these traits results in increased anxiety, lack of confidence, poor training, ultimately poor quality care for patients, and a poor outlook on the future of nursing as a profession. According to Roberts (2003), some of the following are qualities or traits of a good mentor:
- Positive attitude and outlook
- Caring approach toward others
- Experience practitioner
- Compatible personal chemistry with the new nurse
- Exemplary employee and nursing professional
- Good communicator, empathetic listener
- Worthy of trust, admiration, and respect
- Dedication to learning (p. 143)
New nurses tend to gravitate towards those seasoned nurses that have the qualities listed above. They trust that the mentor will not lead them in such a way that they will provide unsafe care, but promote a feasible working and learning environment.
New nurses are a direct reflection of seasoned nurses that trained and mentored them. As seasoned nurses, we must adhere to strict guidelines for training, promoting education, providing encouragement, developing effective ways of mentoring, and incorporating mentorship into the training curriculum. According to Roberts (2003), the model of nurse mentoring “…may be the single most important tool available for developing a professional-in-training” (p. 143). This explains why seasoned nurses must think about the ways that they are training and interacting with new nurses. The future of nursing depends on the knowledge of our fellow colleagues.
Florence Nightingale: An Exemplary Mentor
Florence Nightingale is a wonderful example of an effective mentor. The article by Lorentzon & Brown (2003) provides exerts of correspondence between Nightingale and who was said to be her protégé, Miss Rachel Williams. Miss Williams attended the Nightingale School in 1871, was a sister at St. Thomas’s Hospital, and later became assistant Superintendent of Nurses at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh.
Dating back to 1879, Miss Williams wrote about nursing and staffing requirements. She was coached, guided, and encouraged by Nightingale via a series of letters and correspondence. According to Lorentzon & Brown (2003), Nightingale provided the following testimonial for Miss Williams’ application for matron’s post at St. Mary’s:
She has distinguished herself as a trainer and teacher of nursing. She has won golden opinions from the medical and surgical professors (presumably at St. Thomas’s and Edinburgh). She has great influence over and love from the nurses of the old school who still remain on the Edinburgh nursing staff… She is of noble character above jealousy or meanness (and) of singular intelligence. All this implies a strict conscientiousness in carrying out rules and discipline as well over herself as over others (p.267).
Just as Nightingale acted as a mentor for her colleagues and students, seasoned nurses should act out of both professional and personal concern to train new nurses. New nurses should be offered guidance, provided with support, and encouraged with motivation to learn. Seasoned nurses must show exemplary confidence, good judgment, expert critical thinking skills, empathy, and the ability to have relationships with others.
When mentoring others, it is vital that a seasoned nurse remember their personal journey in nursing. Without the experience, knowledge, and coaching/mentoring that they have received, seasoned nurses would not have developed into the professionals that they are today. The application of a mentoring program in training can be seen as a valuable retention strategy post-graduation. It is a perfect way to groom nurses and should be seen as a priority to have a fruitful future. It has to be thought of as paying it forward, teaching new nurses all of the tricks of the trade, and setting a fine example (Hunink, 2009).
In nursing education, mentoring can be viewed as effective when the end result is being a competent, confident, insightful nurse who is able to utilize critical thinking skills and provide high quality care to patients. Seasoned nurses must mentor new nurses in such a way that the nursing profession is viewed for what it was meant to be, a caring art.
Sharing knowledge, wisdom, experiences, and successes with new nurses ensures the creation of a caring nurse that provides quality healthcare. Lead by example and break the cycle of poor mentoring to provide nurses new to the profession support to colleagues. This, in turn, will improve the future of our discipline.
Barker, E. (2006). Mentoring: A complex relationship. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 18(2), 56-61.
Hunink, G. V. (2009). Moral issues in mentoring sessions. Nursing Ethics, 16(4), 487-498.
Lorentzon, M. & Brown, K. (2003). Florence nightingale as 'mentor of matrons': Correspondence with Rachel Williams at St. Mary's Hospital. Journal of Nursing Management, 11(4), 266-275.
Meleis, A. (2012). Theoretical Nursing: Development & Progress. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Roberts, D. (2003). Mentoring: the future of nursing. MEDSURG Nursing, 12(3), 143.
Keywords: mentoring, perceptions, practice implications, leadership