Mentoring is 'Miracle Gro for nurses' and 'key to future success'

What do you get when you pair an experienced nurse — one who has been there, done that and has seen it all — with a new nursing school graduate? 

You get strong, confident nurses who show up at the bedside ready to provide an optimal experience for patients, because they know they have the support of a "mutually respectful partner," said Katherine Birkenstock, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer at AtlantiCare in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., noting the effect of mentorship on both nurses can be "invaluable."

"Both parties contribute to each other's growth and development in a very special way — one that only the two can completely understand," Ms. Birkenstock said. "The reward of the mentor and mentee relationship is immeasurable. This is why the mentor-mentee bond is long-standing, potentially lasting throughout a career or a lifetime."

Caitlin Jeanmougin, DNP, RN, assistant professor in Miami University's Department of Nursing in Oxford, Ohio, recently left her nursing position at Mercy Fairfield (Ohio) Hospital to enter academia, where she is focused on student success and serves on the university's peer mentorship committee. 

"We all know that when a new grad enters the workplace, they don't know everything that they need to know to be successful as a nurse. We have given them a broad overview and then, when they choose a unit or an environment to practice in, they still need significant additional teaching," Dr. Jeanmougin said. "Frequently, when they graduate they don't feel fully confident in their skills. Mentoring bridges the gap between nursing school and new job orientation and their career as a nurse."

The American Nurses Association offers several mentoring programs (some virtual) for nurses at all stages of their career because "early-career nurses needed job mentoring, up-and-coming leaders needed career mentoring and nursing leaders wanted to be mentors to give back to the next generation of nurses," Katie Boston-Leary, PhD, RN, director of nursing programs and co-lead for Project Firstline at the ANA, told Becker's

ANA offers an eight-month mentoring program and a flash mentoring program that the association calls "speed mentoring." "This is flexible and short term where one nurse could connect with five different nurses in one week," Dr. Boston-Leary said. 

Becker's spoke with several nursing leaders, including one who likened mentoring to "Miracle Gro" for new nurses, especially those who spent more clinical training time in simulation labs than with real patients in the past few years.

"Mentor-mentee relationships can ease the transition, foster the necessary level of self-confidence for new nurses" and "can show them how to be collaborative and build on their skills," said Heather Franci, BSN, chief nursing officer at DuBois, Pa.-based Penn Highlands Healthcare.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.  

Question: What are the benefits of mentoring in nursing?

Maryann Alexander, PhD, RN, Chief Officer, Nursing Regulation at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing: Of the 800,000 nurses that have expressed an intent to leave the workforce by 2027, 24 percent of them have under 10 years of experience. We know that over the past several years there has been a decline in practice readiness and practice proficiency of new graduates entering the workforce. While feeling unprepared is often a typical response of a new graduate nurse, for those entering the workforce since the onset of COVID-19, the feelings of stress and burnout are even more pervasive as many students did not get the benefits of their full clinical experiences once the pandemic was declared. 

So how do we address this? [NCSBN data suggests] hospitals with established programs that address the transition from education to practice (often called transition or residency programs) with a strong preceptorship/mentoring component had higher retention rates. These new graduates made fewer errors, experienced less stress and had increased job satisfaction. That speaks volumes for the need for precepting and mentoring.

A good preceptor in one’s early career is integral to patient safety and job satisfaction. It can be the difference between a life-long career in nursing and early burnout. A good mentor, however, inspires and leads and can guide the mentee down pathways throughout their career he/she never thought possible.

Katherine Birkenstock, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer at AtlantiCare (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.): The relationship between a mentor and a mentee is sacred and built on trust. This mutually respectful partnership provides a safe place for the mentee to be open and honest in sharing their fears and challenges.

A mentor's role is to create and cultivate a trusting relationship and space where the mentee can be open and honest. Mentors provide encouragement, support, guidance and more. They advocate for their mentees. They foster experiential personal and professional growth. In addition to the mentor-mentee relationship benefiting the mentee, it provides the opportunity for the mentor’s ongoing personal and professional growth. 

Katie Boston-Leary, PhD, RN. Director of Nursing Programs at the American Nurses Association: Mentorship bridges generational, experiential and competency gaps in nursing practice and builds relationships between nurses. The knowledge complexity gap in nursing is widening, and mentorship provides support for all nurses regardless of years of experience.  

Further, there is a bi-directional and mutual benefit to mentoring. It builds confidence and competence, which translates to better patient outcomes and less clinical errors. It also reduces stress, fear, anxiety and burnout for nurses who may feel alone and afraid to ask for help. For nurses that have left direct patient care delivery, mentoring adds value with the mentor experiencing feelings of mattering and belonging by contributing to the field of nursing in a different way. Mentorship should be structured and supported for it to be mutually beneficial to mentors and mentees.

Natalia Cineas, DNP, RN. Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive at NYC Health + Hospitals (New York City): Mentorship is like Miracle Gro for nursing because it allows the proliferation of the workforce. It allows more individuals to enter the workforce, and there's no better time than right now to get more individuals interested in becoming nurses. Mentorship provides a level of guidance, a level of inspiration and a level of support that's needed for someone to not only enter the nursing workforce but to remain in it. 

Mentorship helps to create a safe space for professionals to give one another advice and to create pathways for professional development.This is particularly important for minority nurses. We know there is a small percentage of minorities in leadership positions. Providing guidance and role modeling is very important at every level.

Bob Dent, DNP. Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at Emory Healthcare (Atlanta): As a nurse and nurse leader for more than three decades, mentoring and coaching has always been a vital role in my career. For nurses completing school and transitioning into practice, having a mentor helps you navigate complex hospital systems and better acclimate to the unique culture and processes within the nursing profession. 

Nurse career development is critical as a new imperative for hospitals and a tool that can help retain, engage and develop the next generation of nurses. Every nurse needs a mentor or a coach to improve their practice and set themselves up for success in the long term. With regard to nurses developing into leaders, I am leading a nursing leadership program in conjunction with Emeritus Healthcare this summer.

Heather Franci, BSN. Chief Nursing Officer at Penn Highlands Healthcare (DuBois, Pa.): My first mentor really helped me to advance in my profession and gave me the resources that I needed to keep on pursuing a solid nursing pathway. She also inspired me to move toward leadership. I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have had along the way to lead, and I think having a strong mentor is the key to future success of nurses.

Wendi Goodson-Celerin, DNP, APRN. Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital: Mentoring is a key driver in our retention of new nurses. Nurses have to feel engaged and supported in their current healthcare system. We have challenges already around that cause burnout and stress. Things move very fast in the healthcare environment, and new nurses have to be ready to move and move fast. Having a mentor that you can go to for support and guidance and help you get up to speed is critical. 

Mentors are helping to educate the new nurses to the system and to processes. They are helping them to build relationships with co-workers and physicians. They are very eager to learn and mentors help them to grow and establish a career path for themselves early so they feel like they have a future. They feel engaged and they feel supported. 

Alison Holman, PhD, BSN. Professor at the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing at the University of California-Irvine: I think mentoring programs within hospital settings, especially, send a message to the nursing staff that lateral violence against other nurses is not acceptable. And that's a really important message. I am talking about verbal bullying. I have witnessed people being ostracized because they were new and green. And instead of mentoring the new nurses, there was a tearing down. If we want nurses to stay in the profession of nursing, we need people who will actually mentor them into their own growth and their own development. Mentoring helps new nurses to be the strongest nurses they can be. 

Caitlin Jeanmougin, RN. Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio): Mentoring provides new nurses with a sense of belonging. And it helps with soft skills. It's more than learning how to be a nurse; mentoring helps new nurses feel like they belong. It gives them the feeling that if they didn't show up one day, somebody would notice and care. There are also benefits for the mentor. All the research shows that mentors are able to grow in terms of leadership and communication skills. 

Kelly McCullough, DNP, APRN, Dean of Quality and Effectiveness, Rasmussen Univeristy (Bloomington, Minn.): There are opportunities to mentor at all phases of your career. The future of nursing will only be stronger from the time one spends mentoring others. It is one of the most generous ways to give back to the profession.

The mentors who have impacted my professional career provided wisdom, support and empathy. As a new registered nurse returning to graduate school, my mentor was influential in guiding me to a program that would meet my professional goals.

New nurses know they care for clients that may be at their most vulnerable time. This may be very stressful for the nurse and debriefing with a mentor provides an opportunity to reinforce a nurse's professional practice, heal their heart, and encourage them to strengthen their practice.

Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, APRN-CNP. Vice President for Health Promotion, University Chief Wellness Officer and Dean of the College of Nursing at the Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio): Mentoring is more an affair of the heart than the head; it is a two-way relationship that is based on trust. A mentor wins and sustains the mentee's trust through constancy (staying the course), reliability (being there when it counts), integrity (honoring commitments and promises) and "walking the talk." The critical roles of a mentor are teacher, sponsor, adviser, agent, role model and coach.

I think mentorship is important when it comes to creating a safe space for professionals to give one another advice and to create pathways for professional development. I also believe that mentorship, particularly for nursing and minorities, is very important when it comes to leadership tracks. We know only a small percentage of minorities are in leadership positions in hospitals. Providing guidance and role modeling for those individuals is very important.

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