AACN News—May 1999—Opinions

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Vol. 16, No. 5, MAY 1999


President's Note: Mentoring Relationships Can Nurture Our Future

By Mary G. McKinley, RN, MSN, CCRN

President, AACN

The long-standing image that nurses “eat their young” is particularly disturbing at a time when we are facing the greatest nursing shortage ever, because we basically are shooting ourselves in the foot. After all, if we don’t nurture and support new nurses in the critical care setting, who will take care of us?

We have a powerful tool in mentoring that can help us overcome this image. Mentoring has been around since Homer’s Odyssey, in which the Greek god Mentor guides the troubled Telemachus, son of Odysseus, on his journey. Mentor was a wise counselor.

I was lucky to have had a mentor in my early years in critical care who did not exhibit the mentality of eating the young. I am grateful to this day for her support and shared knowledge. Many of us have felt the strength and power that can come from such a positive mentoring relationship.

I also believe in the power of preceptor relationships, in which nurses have worked for many years. However, mentoring involves more than teaching specific skills or tasks. If we develop true mentorship relationships that guide, coach and teach, we can add a huge dimension to the role. This added dimension carries the potential to improve the climate of the critical care unit by fostering the development of a caring, supportive environment for nurses and patients. Where mentorships are in place, we most likely will also experience enhanced collaboration and collegial dialogue among nursing staff.

It is important to realize that mentoring can help the mentor, the mentee and the patients in our critical care units by creating a healing, humane and learning environment.

The mentorship role must be conceptualized as one where the assignment is to be teacher, guide and companion in the first year, but with as much to gain from the relationship as the mentee. The mentor can learn from the mentee, become revitalized in nursing and discover new ideas about nursing from the novice who has more recently been in an academic environment.

The mentee must be viewed as a proactive participant in the learning process. The nurse who is new to the critical care environment must not be viewed as a learner in deficit, but as a novice colleague who requires assistance in certain identifiable areas such as acclimatization to the role or learning specific skills. The mentee can be seen as a resource who has fresh ideas and creative energy to bring to the critical care environment.

The benefits of mentorship can be threefold.

Mentorship helps to promote professionalism in nursing. Making the novice experience a creative opportunity can contribute to the profession. Because mentorship provides a structured induction into nursing, it enhances the profession’s credibility.

Mentorship can foster a collaborative learning environment at a variety of levels. Establishing teams of nurses who are willing to serve as mentors can help build a community spirit. At another level, mentorship can foster the interchange of information, knowledge and skills between experienced and novice colleagues. Information is not only exchanged between the mentor and mentee, but also with the administration, which can help foster a sense of achievement and satisfaction for the learner.

Finally, mentorship promotes adult learning. Lifelong learning is one of the strongest values that we hold in critical care nursing. A mentorship program is a way of infusing a spirit of lifelong learning in a critical care unit. This spirit benefits not only the nursing staff, but also the patients and families, who deserve the highest quality care we can provide.

Successful mentorship requires receptive, open learners, who are committed to continuing their professional education. Mentees must understand that the relationship is not one-sided. Mentoring also requires a mentor who is flexible, a good communicator, and willing to share accumulated knowledge. A proactive administration is another requirement for positive mentoring. Realistic goals and time commitments are essential to the success of a mentorship program.

The mentoring initiative must also be evaluated.

Mentoring is also important to AACN activities. During my travels around the country this year, I have been pleased to see our members mentoring others in activities such as program planning, chapter president duties, chapter adviser duties and, yes, the sometimes dreaded treasurer role.

Mentoring can assist us in developing our association in the same way that it assists us in developing our critical care units. For example, AACN can benefit from information shared by newer members. We can change the stereotype of “eating our young” into one of nurturing our young. From them we can learn how AACN can best meet their needs, which will help us all reach our vision of a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients where critical care nurses make their optimal contribution.

My Turn: Canine Companions Keeps ‘Cup’ Full

Ginger Gosling (second from left) is shown with Ulani and other Canine Companions volunteers and puppies.

By Sandra “Ginger” Gosling

I love the challenges of nursing, which can be physically demanding and emotionally draining. Balancing the demands of the profession is a constant battle.

Because of my experience, I am a firm believer that you must keep your spiritual “cup” full. How can we continuously care for our patients and their families if our cup is dry? We can’t; we will dry up to.

Over the years I have observed my colleagues filling their cups in a variety of ways. For the past six years, I have filled my cup as a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a nonprofit organization that provides assistance dogs to individuals with disabilities other than blindness.

Receiving an 8-week-old “bundle of fur” to raise to maturity is a joy, even with the trials and tribulations along the way. Both my husband and I are sad but proud when the time comes to return our puppy to Canine Companions. We console ourselves with the realization that the puppy will help and brighten someone’s life in a big way.

We are frequently asked how we can give up these puppies. Following is my explanation.

As volunteer puppy raisers, our job is to nurture, socialize, love and provide basic obedience training to our CCI puppies.

We currently have a 1-year-old, bright-eyed Golden Retriever named Ulani.

When our foster puppy is close to one-and-a-half years of age, we do what most people have trouble fathoming—we give her up. Ulani is scheduled to go to CCI’s northeast training center this month. We are responsible for delivering her to Long Island, N.Y., where she will receive advanced training for six months. By now, we have a huge emotional investment in her.

Ulani is the fourth puppy my husband and I have raised for CCI. Each of them has taken a piece of our hearts with them.

Graduation from advanced training, to which we are invited, is an exciting time. We proudly attend and hand over our puppy’s leash to someone whose life will be better and brighter because of their new service dog and best friend.

As a fully trained dog, Ulani will have learned to perform about 50 commands. She will help her new partner lead a more independent and fulfilled life. A CCI dog is truly an “exceptional dog for an exceptional person,” as the organization’s motto states. Knowing this makes the experience worthwhile.

After we have sent our puppy off to “college,” we know the empty spot we have in our hearts will be filled again by a sweet little ball of fur that enters our lives to grow and mature to brighten the world around him or her.

Editor’s note: Sandra “Ginger” Gosling, RN, BSN, CCRN, is a staff nurse in a medical/surgical ICU at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Marietta, Ga. She has been a nurse for 22 years, 17 of which have been in critical care.