How to Set Up a Nurse Mentorship Program

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Written by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Two nurses who are part of a nurse mentorship program talking in the hallway.

Nurses with less than five years of experience account for a third of hospital nurse turnover. New nurses are vulnerable to burnout for a number of reasons. It takes months for new nurses to get their footing in a nursing specialty and develop the skills necessary for the job. If they’re in an unwelcoming or strained work environment, it’s natural to retreat and look for employment elsewhere.

If your organization is looking for ways to support new nurses, consider starting a nurse mentorship program. New nurses get matched with experienced nurses to develop their skills and grow in their careers. Here’s how to build one out to foster interpersonal relationships and nursing career growth at your organization.

How Nurse Mentorships Work

New graduate nurses typically get three to six months of orientation when starting their first job. During this time, training takes place through either a nurse preceptorship or a nurse residency program. After the training period, the nurse is free to take care of patients without oversight.

The “honeymoon period” of being off orientation but still relatively inexperienced is a nerve-wracking time for nurses. Without the support of nursing leadership and colleagues, new nurses may feel isolated or disengaged from their work. Silent suffering leads to turnover — nearly 40% of new hires leave within the first year.

Healthcare organizations can reduce turnover by implementing ways to formally check in on nurses. In a nurse mentorship program, a nurse mentee is paired with a nurse mentor. Together they discuss the mentee’s career goals and current challenges and create an action plan to address them. The relationship lasts about a year and may be broken down into phases to ensure milestones are met.

Benefits of Nurse Mentorship Programs

National programs like the ANA mentorship program match experienced nurses with those who have less than five years of experience. Advantages of this type of program include virtual meetings for long-distance mentoring and a higher pool of experienced nurse mentors.

However, it may be more effective to create a mentorship program for nurses within an organization. Mentors and mentees may relate more due to a shared experience within a facility and have access to the same resources (such as continuing education courses or committees). It also allows for more frequent in-person meetings.

Mentorship programs benefit nurses by fostering:

  • Skill development
  • Emotional support
  • Educational growth
  • Career clarity and goal-setting
  • Deepening of interpersonal relationships

They benefit the facility as a result of:

  • Improved nursing care
  • Higher retention rates
  • Leadership development
  • Improved teamwork among nursing staff

Nurse Mentorship Program Template

Every organization sets up mentorship programs differently, so feel free to customize yours based on the nature of the nursing units using it. Below is a program guide informed by an evidence-based mentorship program for experienced nurses.

Keep in mind, mentorships can be just as beneficial for mid-level nurses as they are for new graduates. Consider opening the program up to nurses with more than five years of experience who are looking to broaden their nursing skill set as mentees.

1. Establish a Nurse Mentorship Task Force

The best way to make an action plan for the program is by involving nurses within your organization. They have first-hand experience in individual units, and know what it’s like to be in a new graduate nurse’s shoes. Nurse-driven committees are also a good way to promote structural empowerment within a Magnet nursing model.

Consider creating a departmental or unit-based task force to outline the needs and goals of the program. Encourage experienced nurses, new graduates, and nurse leaders such as managers or educators to join.

The mentorship task force should make a plan outlining:

  • A matching system for mentors and mentees
  • The length of the program
  • A curriculum and educational resources that can be used
  • Recommended milestones
  • The frequency of a check-in process
  • Follow up action items

2. Set Goals for the Program

What are the outcomes you’re looking for in a nurse mentorship program? Collaborate with the task force to set organizational goals, like:

  • Reduced turnover rates
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Increased staff engagement
  • Improved patient outcomes
  • Identifying potential nurse leaders, such as a charge nurse

Then, create a list of goals that nurse mentees may want to get out of the program, such as:

  • An advanced skill set
  • Experience taking care of sicker patients
  • A nursing certification
  • Becoming more involved in unit committees

3. Create a Matching System

Have the task force define how program participants will be matched. Consider factors like a mentor’s career background or strengths that could make them a fit for mentees. Remember to include time limits for the matching process to keep the program at about a year.

4. Make a Timeline

The mentorship program can be divided into phases such as pre-intervention, midpoint, and post-mentorship. This helps measure success by determining whether goals were met throughout the program.

5. Implement the Program

Allow the nurse mentors and mentees to begin working together and toward their goals. Throughout the mentorship, nurse leaders should check in with both participants to see how it’s going. During the implementation phase, mentors should collect data like a milestone checklist and any other goals established during the pre-intervention phase.

6. Measure Success and Take Corrective Action

All project rollouts have learning curves, which is why it’s wise to collect data — good or bad — before and after the program. Measurable results could include:

  • Nurse call-out rates
  • Committee participation
  • Educational course attendance
  • Adverse event rates, such as falls or unplanned extubations

The data allows task force members to make changes to improve future mentorship programs. Another way to measure the success of the program is to conduct a survey to measure participants’ satisfaction with the mentorship process.

Find More Ways to Promote Nurse Retention

Attracting and retaining nurses are among the top challenges for healthcare leaders. Establishing a nurse mentorship program is a way to show nurses they’re valued and supported — and it deepens their commitment to your organization. Receive the same support from a staffing partner committed to helping you solve staffing challenges through IntelyCare’s free newsletter.