Nurses at all experience levels should be in a mentoring relationship.

The ink is still wet on your state license. Your head is filled with about as much clinical knowledge as you can keep straight. And then you step into the non-stop stress of a real-life hospital or healthcare facility. You realize you’re going to need a lot more than just book-smarts. What you need is a nurse mentor.

But your first year as a nurse isn’t the only time you’ll benefit from a mentor. In fact, maintaining an ongoing mentoring relationship is one of the best things you could do for your career. A nurse mentor not only provides guidance and insight into clinical issues and your career. They also provide encouragement and support when the job starts to overwhelm you.

Some of you have a few more years under your belt. You’ve got thousands of cases to draw on to help figure out your latest clinical query. You’ve got support systems and self care figured out and you’re the first to pull your team together in crisis. And right now you may be thinking, “Do I really need a mentor?” And the answer is “Maybe not – but someone may need you to be their mentor.” 

So let’s take a look at why nurses need a mentor and why you may want to be a mentor.

Why you need a nurse mentor.

There’s many reasons why a new nurse needs a mentor. (Finding the best nursing shoes is just one of them.) But mentors are just as important to experienced nurses as well. According to Benjamin Evans, former President of the New Jersey State Nurses Association in an article for Rasmussen College: 

“Patients and facilities benefit from shared expertise, the passing of institutional knowledge and the development of shared ideas that can improve health care outcomes and patient care. Mentoring offers newer nurses a safe space to learn as they grow in their practice of nursing. Many times, mentees are more comfortable asking questions of a mentor.”

Benjamin Evans, DNP and former President of NJSNA

Mentoring relationships are how nurses pass on the best of their knowledge and experience. It’s also a great way for nurses at any level to grow their career. Whether you’re moving into a new specialty, transitioning to administration, or just trying to provide the best patient care possible, a mentor can be key. RN Kyana Brathwaite of KB CALS says, “Mentorship is more about supporting a person where they are and providing them the necessary tools to grow.”

All of us need someone in our corner, cheering us on and giving us the guidance we need. Nursing is one of the most challenging careers anyone will ever work – emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. If anyone needs a mentor, it’s a nurse.

How to find a nurse mentor.

If you’re early in your nursing career or on full time staff at a larger facility, you may have access to a formalized nurse mentorship program. Getting a mentor in a system like this is as easy as signing up. 

If you primarily work per diem or on assignment, a formal program likely isn’t an option. But you almost certainly know, and are likely friends with, more experienced nurses. Finding a mentor is as simple as asking someone if they have the time and inclination to mentor you.

The real challenge is choosing someone who is a good fit as your mentor. Finding an experienced nurse you have a good rapport or relationship with is important. But a good mentor should also possess a few key qualities:

  • Positivity: You’re looking for a cheerleader, not a commiserator.
  • Patience: This is a tough, complex job with high stakes. A good mentor can weather disagreements and slow change.
  • Perception: Seeing situations from more than one angle and giving sound advice is a key characteristic of a mentor.
  • Precision: They should be able to clearly communicate encouragement, guidance, and opinions.
  • Persistence: Mentoring takes time and effort. A good mentor will be committed to the mentoring relationship and nursing as a whole.

What happens next?

How a mentoring relationship works is entirely up to the two of you. It should consist of regularly scheduled check-ins of some sort. Maybe meeting for coffee once a week is ideal. Or maybe you and your mentor are more comfortable with drinks once a month after your shift. If you’re on a travel assignment, connecting over Zoom likely works best. Whatever cadence or environment the two of you choose, you should have time and some privacy or quiet. You’ll want to catch up, share what’s going on in your career, and ask for advice.

The key is consistent and intentional communication. And that communication needs to be open, honest, and encouraging. Both of you need to be ready for tough questions or conversations and feel free to respond honestly.

And that’s really it. Mentoring is nothing more than being intentional about a teaching relationship.

What about being a mentor?

Knowing when you’re ready to be a mentor is a personal choice. As is whether you want to be a mentor or not. But if you enjoy teaching and encouraging others and have clinical and institutional knowledge to share, then it may be time to consider mentoring a nurse.

Travel and per diem nurses may reach this point more quickly than someone on staff at the a facility. By constantly changing the doctors, facilities, and even geographies you work in, you’ll gain varied experience quickly. You’re going to be exposed to different ways to work and provide care, giving you insight others may not have.

Ready to mentor, but don’t know where to start? Look for a formalized mentorship program and see if you can sign up. If that’s not an option, consider finding a nurse you have a good relationship with and asking them. You never know – they may have wanted to ask, but hadn’t worked up the nerve yet.

The best part is, being a mentor or a mentee is not an either/or proposition. No one asks you to turn in your mentor once you start mentoring someone. Your meeting cadence may change. You may talk more as equals as time goes on. But keeping that relationship active throughout your career will help you, your patients, and your mentees.

Regardless of your experience in nursing, having a mentor just makes good sense. And paying it forward when you’re ready is just as smart.