Nurses are critical to the wellbeing of the general population. Without skilled care from experienced, well-educated and well-adjusted nurses, it would be much more difficult to secure affordable and comprehensive healthcare in the US. Despite their importance, nurses face an uphill battle at work. From coping with unsupportive workplaces to facing high amounts of stress and burnout, nursing professionals must overcome a lot to do their jobs efficiently and thoroughly. Luckily, mentorship is rising in popularity and use. Nursing mentors can help new nurses adjust to their jobs and can help even experienced nurses cope with difficulties and challenges at work.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of both being a mentor and having a mentor in nursing.
What is a mentor in nursing?
Nursing mentorship is a relationship between two nurses: a nurse just starting out in the profession and a nurse with years of experience. The latter is a mentor, and they are responsible for helping novice nurses through the difficulties they are likely to face throughout their first few years in the job. Mentorship programs in nursing are designed to benefit both the mentee and the mentor by building a supportive and dynamic relationship through professional growth.
In order to build such supportive relationships, as well as effectively helping new nurses get through their first year or two, mentors spend a lot of time working one-on-one with their mentees. They offer daily guidance and a ‘safe space’ where novice nurses can learn the professional and social workings of the industry and, if applicable, the specific workplace.
Mentors can also help nursing students cope with the stress of studying and residencies. To be a nurse, you require education and contact hours in the field, and a mentor can be invaluable during this time. Whether they are working toward their first qualifications in healthcare or training as innovators in the field, it helps to have someone who has got your back. The online ed.D. program in health care education from Rockhurst University offers a chance for those with a master’s degree to connect with other leaders in the field to improve and put into practice excellent health care education programs.
For this article specifically, let’s look at why mentorships in nursing are a vital part of novice nurses’ introduction to the industry.
Why does nurse mentorship matter?
Multiple studies have been conducted on the impact of mentorships in nursing, and the common consensus is that the experience is overwhelmingly positive for novice nurses and their mentors. One study found that nurses with mentors showed a retention rate of 25% higher than those without. The same study also found that mentorships boosted overall workplace morale. Others have had similar findings, with a reduction in job-related stress and better time management being positively correlated with nursing mentorships.
Beyond the stress-related benefits of nursing mentorships, mentees also benefit from these relationships professionally. Close mentorship naturally brings novice nurses’ strengths and weaknesses to light, allowing them to better understand their own limitations. Once they are aware of their shortcomings, new nurses can work on correcting any issues and providing a well-rounded package of care to their patients.
Mentorship also gives novice nurses a new insight into their field of choice. It is difficult to fully picture all of the responsibilities and nuances in care without experiencing the job firsthand. Mentors can help novice nurses understand the different aspects of the field. Nurses with the opportunity to interact with someone experienced in their field might also experience increased job satisfaction, as they are well-prepared for the challenges that the job has to offer.
Challenges in nursing
Despite being the backbone of the medical industry in the US, nurses face quite a few challenges while working. Any of them can lead to burnout and potentially result in some nurses abandoning the field forever, but some are worse than others. Here are two of the biggest challenges that nurses face.
One of the biggest challenges facing nurses today is short staffing. Inadequate staffing is an increasingly serious issue across the profession for a few different reasons, including:
- Increased patient complexity.
- Increased patient need.
- Cost-cutting measures.
- Aging workforce.
All of the above combine in a workplace with too few workers at any given time. While this issue would be concerning in almost any industry, it is especially significant in a field that involves ill and injured individuals. When there are too few nurses to go around, existing nurses must cover more patients than they can comfortably handle. This naturally leads to poorer care for patients and more negative outcomes.
Caring for others every day comes with a host of physical and emotional demands. Nurses are expected to do everything they can to care for their patients, but their wellbeing tends to fall by the wayside. The stress of a busy and unforgiving workplace, paired with the sheer amount of responsibility placed upon their shoulders, can lead to both professional and personal challenges, causing problems in many different areas of life. Some of these include:
- Quality of life.
- Physical activity.
- Mental health.
The healthiest nurses in the industry are typically those with healthy role models or support networks helping them structure their own mental and emotional approach to the job, as well as their schedule.
The first year is especially difficult
It’s worth noting at this point that even beyond the more general challenges we’ve outlined above, the first year of nursing is especially difficult. Many nurses can attest to this, and some novice nurses don’t make it past the first year of their employment before looking for another job. Sometimes they leave the field altogether, unable to cope with the demands of the profession. But why exactly is the first year the hardest?
For many people, the first few months of a job are the hardest. It is only natural to be uncertain of yourself in an entirely new environment with new job responsibilities and expectations. For nurses, however, this uncertainty can last far longer than a few weeks or months. Caring for sick people comes with more responsibilities and often much higher stakes than other careers. Novice nurses might also find it difficult to fit into the work community, making for a lonely work experience in an industry where collaboration and teamwork are critical to success. Between the reality of nursing and the amount of responsibility that nurses assume, the first year of work can feel almost impossible for some.
It might be clear here why mentorship is so important. Given that the first year of work is often the most difficult for novice nurses, having a mentor help them adjust to the community as well as the job is critical. New nurses have a better chance of fitting into their work environment and meeting expectations when they have someone in their corner. Mentors can take the first year from a challenging learning curve to an invaluable learning experience. This, in turn, only leads to better work communities with more well-adjusted nurses better equipped to handle difficult situations.
Benefits of mentorships for mentees in nursing
We’ve touched on some of the benefits of mentorship, but there are many more to explore. This section will cover how mentorships in nursing can benefit the mentees and potentially improve their outlook and ability, resulting in increased quality of care.
One of the main benefits of nursing mentorship is decreased stress. Think about a situation where you were unsure of what was expected and suddenly found yourself overwhelmed with change. Was the transition process easy for you? Do you think that you gave your best while struggling to adjust?
For many people, despite training and theoretical knowledge, starting a new job is stressful. This is especially true when they are in charge of someone else’s wellbeing. Nurses are required to care for patients during their worst, most vulnerable hours, and are often critical to a successful recovery. For more serious injuries or illnesses, nurses are the last line of defense between patients and death. That is a lot of responsibility to take on, and even the most studious and dedicated of new nurses can find themselves overwhelmed.
This is where a mentor comes in. Mentors are experienced nurses who understand what novice nurses are going through. They have the knowledge necessary to help them adjust to their new reality, and can help make the initial concern and stress easier to handle. When your tasks feel a little more clear, and you realize that you aren’t fighting through everything alone, it becomes easier to adjust to changes. The same is true in nursing mentorships.
Improved job satisfaction
Mentees often experience enhanced job satisfaction. The reasons for this might be varied, but we’ve already touched on one of them above. Working with someone who understands the challenges you’re facing and can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel can make even incredibly stressful situations more manageable. And when you feel as though you have a better understanding of your job and know that you have the support of someone experienced, it’s only natural to feel better about your career choice.
Mentorships take away some of the unknown and give novice nurses the tools they need to thrive in busy and stressful work environments.
Because starting a new job is full of uncertainty, it is normal to lack self-confidence at first. This will likely persist until you prove to yourself that you have a handle on the critical responsibilities of your job. This is the experience that most people have when joining a new field or team. The same is true of nurses, but on a heightened level. Nurses make split-second decisions to best treat their patients, and making the wrong choice can have serious consequences. Until they feel comfortable with their knowledge and past performance, many nurses dread having to make these decisions.
Sometimes having a second opinion can help improve your confidence in the decisions you make. Feedback on your choices and actions can be invaluable, especially when the stakes are so high. This is one of the reasons why mentors are critical to helping novice nurses build their confidence levels. With experienced backup behind your decisions, it is easier to trust your choices and become more certain of your ability to do the job at hand.
Benefits of mentorships for mentors in nursing
Nursing mentorships don’t benefit only novice nurses. The experienced nurses offering their time and guidance also experience plenty of benefits, some of which can potentially help them do their jobs even better. Here are three of the main reasons why mentors often look forward to mentoring.
We just discussed this above as a benefit for mentees, but mentors benefit from improved confidence levels as a result of their mentoring. Providing help to novice nurses requires mentors to sift through their knowledge and leverage their experience in a very organized way. Once they begin to think about their past experiences, as well as the tips and tricks they have picked up over the years, mentors often begin to feel better about their own performance. If they are doing well enough to help new recruits, surely they must be doing something right!
Improved workplace environment
Another reason why mentorships are beneficial to mentors is the improved work environment they promote. Spending time helping a new nurse navigate the sometimes murky waters of medical care, internal politics, and everything in between naturally leads to a fulfilling relationship between the mentee and mentor at hand. This often gives mentors more reason to look forward to their workdays, leading to a better mood and, for some, increased job satisfaction.
Better communication skills
Communication skills aren’t always the skills that come to mind when nursing is discussed, but they are very important to the profession. Nurses must be able to communicate with their patients, doctors and fellow nurses as they seek to provide the best care possible. Excellent interpersonal skills make this process considerably easier, with happier patients and coworkers as a result. Mentorship is an excellent way to improve communication skills. Mentors have to explain processes in an understandable way and give thoughtful feedback to their mentees. Teaching someone one-on-one throughout the day requires patience and compassion, both of which enhance communication skills in a variety of different situations.
Benefits of mentorships for patients in nursing
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing why mentorships are important for mentors and mentees, but we haven’t touched much on the impact they can have on patient care. Did you know that job satisfaction and supportive work environments can lead to better outcomes for patients?
An increasing body of research has shown that happy nurses often equal healthier patients. The notion makes sense, given that nursing is a high-pressure job. From the long shifts to an excessive number of patients to help, nurses are understandably stressed. This leads to them becoming more likely to make mistakes than someone with a reasonable amount of work to do in a low-stress environment.
On the other hand, when nurses work in a healthier environment with more support and reasonable numbers of patients to work with, their satisfaction increases, and patient satisfaction with their care rises. If nurses are able to enjoy their work and spend their time making patients feel better, this naturally leads to better care and improved outcomes.
As we’ve already discussed, mentorship improves nurse satisfaction and confidence. Novice nurses with a mentor are better able to develop a healthy work-life balance, and often have better tools to deal with stress than those who are left to fend for themselves. It makes sense, then, that mentorship leads to happier nurses, which, in turn, leads to happier patients.
How to secure a mentorship
With all of the above in mind, you might be wondering how nursing students can secure a mentor. The first step is to talk with your advisor and ask about potential mentorship programs. They might be able to connect you with an employer that encourages nursing mentorships. Mentors looking for mentees can also look into any programs their employers might offer novice nurses.
Even without an official program, mentorships can be incredibly helpful. All that it really takes is an experienced nurse who is willing to help a novice nurse find their feet in the industry and improve patient outcomes.
Are you interested in learning more about nursing mentorships? If so, keep the information above in mind and you’ll be experiencing a worthwhile and satisfying career in healthcare in no time!