Nurse Mentors: A Mantra for Life

Finding a good mentor and being a good mentor are keys to long term success as a nurse. In this article the author discusses 4 important aspects of mentoring. Maybe you can add some of your own! Nurses General Nursing Article

Nurse Mentors: A Mantra for Life

While out walking in my neighborhood, a young woman I know who graduated 6 months ago, caught up with me and we started walking together. After catching up with her news of being a new hire at the local hospital, she nearly broke down and said, "I feel so overwhelmed all the time. I don't know if I am going to be able to do this. There is often no one to help and sometimes when I ask, I feel stupid. What do I do?"

We all know the importance of getting off to a good start in nursing. Having a good mentor can make all the difference between having a colleague who is a successful professional and having another person drop out of nursing to pursue other lines of work. As long term nurses and dedicated professionals, what can we do to be better mentors to those starting out?

While an initial positive experience is critical, good mentors are important throughout our careers. Whenever we start a new position, even within the same unit, we look around for that person who can guide us along the way. I remember with fondness the long-term nurse who guided me through the first few months of working with hospice. She was affirming, competent and available. When I started making home visits on my own, she made sure that I knew who to call, even if I couldn't reach her. She outlined potential problems I might encounter before the visit and outlined possible strategies for tackling complications.

So what makes a really good mentor and how can we be that person for others?

Be kind - It may seem counterintuitive to put this quality first, but kindness shows respect to others and to ourselves. Kindness undergirds the kind of people we want to be and what we would like to see in others. Sarcasm, belittling, gossiping, cutting remarks, excessive or unnecessary criticism all have no place in our mentoring relationships. As professionals, we must start out by looking inward, checking our own motivations and goals before launching into a mentoring relationship. Regardless of the outcome, when we are kind we can almost always look back without regrets, knowing that we did our best. KIndnesses are long remembered and rarely forgotten. Sometimes it is the small things that make our day and help us to get through our work with a sense of accomplishment. Being kind in mentoring other nurses is key to being the best possible professionals.

Be available - This one is hard and made harder by our erratic schedules and low staffing. But it is essential that we find ways to be as available as possible when we are in a formal mentoring relationship. By passing the baton to someone else, we can let our new hire know who he/she needs to look to should questions arise. Also, through the wonders of cell phones, we have the ability to be more available to one another in emergency situations; by making it clear what those are and setting defined limits, we can enter into and maintain healthy mentoring relationships with one another. Just as my mentor tried to think ahead and let me know what to expect and what problems I might encounter, so too, as mentors, we can have some idea of what might happen and guide our new charges along the way. The idea of "Well, I had to learn it the hard way; they will too," is cruel and unnecessary and ultimately not in our patients' best interest. You may be thinking that you would never do that, but we have to examine ourselves closely and make sure that we are erring on the side of support and encouragement instead of defaulting to letting people learn by making their own mistakes.

Be enthusiastic and grateful - Recently I read an author that said that accounting for all variables such as age, income, health, etc., that the happiest people were those that exhibited two characteristics: they slept well and had an attitude of gratitude. Have you ever been around a "Debbie Downer" or "Dustin Depressed" nurse? There is nothing quite like it to suck the air out of the room and take the joy out of being in nursing, is there? We all know that nursing is hard-that's a given. We don't need to have the hard parts outlined and underlined every day. Instead, we need people around us that can lift us up, co-workers who are full of respect for their patients, that accept others non-judgmentally, and that do their work with patient professionalism. As we mentor each other, we don't need to ignore the difficult parts, but we also don't need to spend all our time focusing them, pointing to them and taking about them. There ARE good things too. As mentors and great nurses, let us be the ones that highlight the good and show gratitude wherever we can. When we give one another the benefit of the doubt, we allow ourselves the freedom to continue to enjoy our profession. When we are grateful for the good things around us, we open the door to more joy in our work.

Be excellent - I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers said, "Always go beyond. Do it with excellence. When you do that, we experience freedom in your work." As nurses we have choices every day-not so much about what we do, but about how we do it. To be great mentors, we want to lead the way in going that second mile for others, putting the needs of our patients before our own and recognizing that in serving others we can find our calling. Nursing is so much more than a job.

As my young friend and I finished up our walk, I tried to give her some pointers in how to proceed, encouraging her to persevere and to also seek out other mentors who provided an example of kindness, availability, enthusiasm and excellence. Throughout our professional lives, we are mentors to others, both the newcomers and the long-lived peers. Let's be the kind of nurses that to others want to follow!


Joy is a long time nurse with experience in a variety of fields in nursing. In her spare time she enjoys cooking for crowds, taking long walks and playing with her grandkids.

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