Ways to Support Mentorship in Nursing

Professional woman smiling while outdoors
Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
An experienced nurse mentoring a younger nurse.

Think about your career journey so far — is there someone who’s helped guide you, offer advice, or support you along the way? It might have been a colleague, teacher, parent, or supervisor. This is mentorship. In nursing, mentorship is an essential component in helping clinicians gain new skills and adjust to a new workplace.

While you might think mentorship is just for new nurses, experienced clinicians need guidance as well. Mentorship programs are built into nursing education and professional training. And although mentoring others might sound like work, experienced nurses often find they enjoy it and learn from teaching others.

What Is Nurse Mentorship?

Nurse mentorship is a professional relationship between a new or less experienced nurse and an experienced nurse. This is often structured through a nurse preceptor program, but you can also form these relationships organically. A nurse mentor has experience that makes them a resource for other nurses, and can help facilitate professional development.

Why Is Mentorship Important in Nursing?

Mentorships aren’t just important in nursing — they’re essential. Evidence shows that mentorship programs help with new nurse retention, confidence, problem-solving, and communication. And because so many nursing skills are learned on the job, experienced nurses are essential for training teammates.

There are five core reasons why mentorship helps nurses develop professionally:

  1. Experience: Nurse mentors can share what they’ve learned from their time as nurses, imparting specialty knowledge and skills that you won’t learn in nursing textbooks.
  2. Building skills: The healthcare world is always changing, and whether you’re new or experienced, there are always new skills and knowledge to learn. Mentors can help you figure out what you’re good at and learn new things so you can keep growing.
  3. Support: Transitions in nursing can be hard — you have to pick up skills quickly, learn how to interact with patients and deal with tragedies when they happen. Mentors understand what you’re going through. They can support you when things are tough and celebrate with you when things go well.
  4. Career advice: A mentor can help you decide whether it’s time to transfer units, move to a different shift schedule, or switch specialties. Their experiences can help add insights to your own decisions.
  5. Confidence: Starting on a new unit can be intimidating, whether you’re experienced or now. Knowing you have someone to turn to when you need help or have a question can help you feel more secure at work.

How Can Mentorship in Nursing Support a Newer Nurse?

The first year as a nurse is often one of high stress — you’re adjusting to a new work schedule, putting didactic skills into practice, caring for patients on your own, and the decisions you make have an impact on your patients. You go from learning in a controlled clinical or classroom environment to having real lives in your hands.

Although newer nurses aren’t the only ones who benefit from effective mentoring in nursing, their potential rewards are the most obvious:

  • Increases desire to remain in nursing
  • Builds their professional network
  • Offers psychological and emotional support
  • Provides a strong foundation for a nursing career
  • Can offer insight into career development

How Can Mentorship in Nursing Support an Experienced Nurse?

Becoming a nurse mentor can be a gratifying addition to your career — many mentors enjoy imparting their skills and knowledge. There’s a rare satisfaction you can gain from seeing mentees succeed and supporting them in their learning. Here are a few benefits you might experience by being a mentor:

  • Affirms skills
  • Can remind you why you became a nurse
  • Prompts mentors to brush up on knowledge gaps
  • Reveals policies and procedures that work well (and those that don’t)
  • Develops your professional network
  • Guiding the next generation of nurses can feel fulfilling
  • Professional mentorship looks great on your resume

How Can Mentorship in Nursing Support a Facility?

An effective nurse mentorship program has big benefits for facilities. That’s because mentorship can contribute to a happier and more confident nursing staff overall:

  • Lowers staff turnover rates
  • Improves nursing care
  • Enhances policies and procedures through mentor feedback
  • Fosters a healthier work culture

Skills That Support Mentoring in Nursing

What are the social and clinical skills that make great mentors and mentees? Here are the top qualities to nurture if you’re entering a mentorship program as a mentee:

  • Be teachable: Be open and curious about the learning process. Try not to take feedback as a criticism of you but as points of improvement.
  • Initiative: If you need extra support, it’s up to you to ask for it. Initiative also means that you’re taking responsibility if you make a mistake or need additional teaching.
  • Communication: Confused about something you feel like you should know already? Speak up! Communicating with your mentor helps you learn, and keeps patients safe.
  • Reflection: What did you learn this shift that you’ll take with you to the next? Developing self-awareness of your skills helps you see areas for skill building and ways you’ve improved.

If you’re considering becoming a nurse mentor, here are some top skills you’ll need:

  • Patience: Taking on a mentee can slow down your shift, especially if your mentee is a brand-new nurse. Your typical schedule will be thrown off, and tasks that might take you a few minutes will likely take longer since you’re teaching them. Have patience with your mentee and yourself during the transition process.
  • Attention to detail: Especially when working with new mentees, you’ll need to do some double-checking to ensure their charting, medications, assessments, and other tasks are correct.
  • Gentle communication: Giving feedback without being overly critical is a delicate balance, and you won’t get it right every time. Be kind to nurses who are new to your specialty. Teaching mentees will help you hone your teaching and communication skills.
  • Nursing skills: Of course, to teach well, you have to have confidence in your skills, and insight to pass along. Experience in your specialty is a must.

Mentor vs. Preceptor: What’s the Difference?

While the two terms are used interchangeably, they refer to distinct roles within nursing and healthcare. A preceptorship is a structured relationship that is set up by your nursing school or facility. Mentorship is more informal. Your preceptor might become a mentor if they choose.

Here’s what you might expect from a preceptor relationship:

  • A focus on clinical training and competence
  • A structured relationship where training is the goal
  • Distinct phases or milestones that a mentee will achieve within the timeframe
  • Skills demonstration in the clinical setting
  • A relationship that is limited to the unit, facility, or work environment where training takes place

On the other hand, mentoring relationships may form more organically, and have broader implications:

  • A focus on personal or professional development, not just shift-to-shift skills
  • A longer-term relationship
  • A broader scope of influence, that might include larger goals, work-life balance, and overall well-being
  • These relationships may turn into friendships, which contribute to positive unit culture

Other Types of Mentorship in Nursing

While preceptors are essential for a structured mentorship experience, they’re not the only type of nurse mentor. Here are other ways that experienced nursing professionals help lend a guiding hand to developing nurses:

Academic Advisors

These professionals work within graduate, master’s, and doctoral nursing programs to guide students through the academic process. They help students navigate the complexities of the nursing curriculum, select appropriate courses, and address academic challenges, ensuring a solid foundation for future clinical practice.

Student-to-Student Mentorship Programs

Peer mentoring programs pair experienced students with those who are newer to the academic environment. Since they were recently in their mentees’ shoes, they may have insight and guidance on how to get through nursing school.

Clinical Instructors

Clinical instructors work with nursing students in healthcare settings, bridging the gap between theory and practice. By providing hands-on training, constructive feedback, and guidance in real-world patient care scenarios, clinical instructors help students develop clinical competence and critical thinking skills.

Nurse Managers

These mentors are leaders that can help nurses navigate career paths, offer insights into leadership roles, and foster a positive work environment. The guidance of nurse managers can contribute to the development of leadership skills and promote career advancement.

Clinical Supervisors

Clinical supervisors oversee nurses in a specific clinical setting, ensuring adherence to standards and providing guidance. They contribute to the ongoing development of clinical skills, professionalism, and adherence to policies and procedures. Their mentorship is essential for maintaining high-quality patient care.

Clinical Nurse Specialists

These specialized clinicians can guide nurses in a specific area, such as wound and ostomy care. A CNS provides in-depth guidance, shares specialized knowledge, and supports the development of advanced skills within their specialty.

Professional Organizations

Joining a nursing organization often gives you access to some of the benefits of mentorship in nursing. You can learn about industry trends and changes, networking opportunities, and career development options.

How to Support Mentorship in Nursing

Being a mentor is a great way to contribute to the nursing profession, and add another layer of gratification to your practice. And you don’t have to formally be a preceptor or hold a new title to mentor other nurses. Here are some ways you can start being a resource on your unit:

  • Check in with other nurses throughout your shift to see if you can offer help.
  • Offer to assist on tasks that you are confident in.
  • Be patient and non-judgemental if another nurse comes to you with a question.
  • Be honest if you don’t know something — everyone has more to learn.
  • Offer tips and tricks you’ve learned from experience.
  • Be kind to your coworkers.

How Will You Support Mentorship in Nursing?

You can take the mentality of nurse mentorship wherever you go. Looking for a change? Find out the many ways IntelyCare can send you nursing jobs that open new doors. Learn more today.