12 Nurses Share Their Favorite Mentoring Advice

By Julie Miller, BSN, RN, CCRN-K Nov 01, 2019

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I don’t need to tell you that for nurses new to the ICU or PCU, mentors can make all the difference. They become a sounding board for mentees’ questions, challenges and frustrations, and provide the opportunity to share years of hands-on knowledge that new nurses don’t usually get enough of in the classroom.

With that in mind, AACN asked experienced members of our nursing community for their favorite mentorship advice:

  • What do you tell your mentees?
  • How do you create great mentors that can help new nurses thrive?
  • What kind of mentorship programs do your units have in place?

When I read the responses, I was amazed at the amount of great advice and pleasantly surprised how many aligned with the AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care, our framework that aligns patient needs with nurse competencies.

The following is what progressive and critical care nurses had to say about mentorship, and how the Synergy Model can help us become even better nurse mentors and mentees.

Words of Advice for Mentors and New Nurse Mentees

  • 1Promote clinical reasoning, which includes clinical decision-making, critical thinking and a global grasp of the situation. Pair that with nursing skills acquired through a process of integrating formal and informal experiential knowledge and evidence-based guidelines.

  • Mentees: we all had to learn, so always be willing to ask questions. For mentors, always be willing to share what you’ve learned. Too many times, seasoned nurses guard their knowledge as power, but sharing empowers all of us with the ability to provide the best care possible to patients. It is really true that you never stop learning; new nurses can teach older ones too!

    —Joan B.

    So true, the great thing about this type of thinking is it creates an environment where the novice nurse is welcomed for the knowledge, skill and attitude they bring to the unit. They often start their career with passion and excitement, which can be nurtured. They also may have learned some innovative evidence-based material in school that maybe hasn’t yet made it into clinical practice.

    I tell mentees to give him/herself a year to feel mostly acclimated to the routine of the unit.

    —Nancy F.

    I love this! We all know how long it takes to not feel overwhelmed and anxious on every shift. I like to tell my novice nurses to give themselves a year to acclimate as well. The most important thing for units and nurse managers is to provide new nurses the support they need during that year. Offer to be a sounding board, ensure the nurse is developing skills for resilience, teach them how to have compassion and empathy for their patients, but also how to have compassion and empathy for themselves and confidence in their abilities.

    New nurses need support to counter feeling like they aren’t doing enough or are overwhelmed, which can lead to high turnover. Remind them to do their best every day; even if they don’t get everything done, it’s ok.

  • 2Encourage nursing activities that create a compassionate, supportive and therapeutic environment for patients and staff, to promote comfort and healing, and prevent unnecessary suffering. Be vigilant, engaging and responsive to caregivers, including family and healthcare personnel.

  • For mentors: Treat the nurse you are mentoring as a valued colleague, and they will be one for many years.

    —Karen M.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter how busy your day was or how many drips they’re on, the family will base their assessment of your care on how the patient looks. Treat each patient like family.

    —Leah L.
  • 3Develop the sensitivity to recognize, appreciate and incorporate differences into the provision of care. Differences may include, but are not limited to, cultural differences, spiritual beliefs, gender, race, ethnicity, lifestyle, socioeconomic status, age and values.

  • Words of advice to the mentor: If you do something one way and someone else does it differently, give mentees the freedom to find their own way and help them develop their process.

    —Emily B.

    Good advice. New nurses should definitely be able to develop their own process … within reason. Of course, they need to make sure their way follows policies and procedures and is evidence-based. They need to be prepared to see a variety of ways to appropriately care for patients. And you’ll want to prepare them to question practices that they do not understand or that make them uncomfortable. These questions often come up during coaching and classroom discussions. They are great opportunities to support orientees and share difficult experiences that happen to new nurses.

    Mentor to mentee: ‘This is how I do it. You may be with different mentors/preceptors, and each of us may do something a little differently. You will figure out what method works best for you.'

    —Lisa D.

    It’s also important to find out from the mentee what works best for them at this stage and offer examples, role modeling and ideas for how to do things differently. This is one of the reasons we belong to our professional organizations, attend conferences and network. We constantly need to learn, test and develop our skills.

  • 4Work with others (e.g., patients, families, healthcare providers) in a way that promotes and encourages each person's contributions toward achieving optimal, realistic patient and family goals. Involve intra- and interdisciplinary work with colleagues and community.

  • For mentees: You get out of nursing exactly what you put into it. If you just clock in, work and clock out, you’ll get a paycheck. If you plug in — to your patients, families and co-workers — you will find a human experience only a few understand, and will be forever changed.

    —Jenny N.

    Collaborating with others is where the work gets done. When we see something that needs improvement or change, we can’t get it done by ourselves. By modeling true collaboration, a healthy work environment standard, our mentees learn to develop both professionally and personally.

    My career definitely wouldn’t be where it is today without collaborating with others. Colleagues, interdisciplinary team members and AACN and its chapters have all shaped me and led me on this awesome career path. Model this for your mentees to help them develop!

  • 5Develop the ability to facilitate learning for patients/families, nursing staff, other members of the healthcare team and the community. Include both formal and informal facilitation of learning.

  • Mentees, don’t ever be afraid or ashamed to say you don’t know how. We all had to learn and it’s never a bad thing to ask for help. It takes years to know when to run, when to walk and when to just observe. Once you have the years behind you, stay humble.

    —Florrie M.

    I totally agree and would add it is so important for mentors to also say when they don’t know. Admitting when we don’t know and modeling how to find the answer teaches the novice nurse how to be curious and sets them up for success. We all know nursing is in a constant state of change with new evidence. It’s our job to show new nurses they don’t have to be experts at everything and give to them necessary tools as they become independent.

    For clinical nurse educators orienting ICU staff, follow up with the nurse every two weeks to check in to make sure they are doing well. I usually round on them the first week after orientation. I ask them about their patients, request a summary and usually ask follow-up questions to make sure they understand the plan of care.

    At my former hospital, when a nurse came off ICU orientation, they would be paired with a more experienced nurse for their first year. They were paid to meet outside of work for four hours each month. It’s became a catalyst for both interpersonal and professional relationships; the novice nurse had someone to talk to directly when they had questions or concerns in their nursing practice, or if they didn’t yet have friends on the unit.

    —Tao Z.
  • 6Build a body of knowledge and tools that allow the nurse to manage environmental and system resources for the patient, family and staff, within or across healthcare and non- healthcare systems.

  • Mentees: Do it right now. Not 10 minutes from now, not down the hall and not tomorrow. Take care of the situation that is happening now as best you can with the information you have.

    —Chris S.

    The one thing I’d add to Chris’s great advice is to encourage novice nurses to not only assess the information they have on hand, but also encourage them to ask for help if they don’t have enough information. In fact, Becky says it perfectly below.

  • 7Develop clinical inquiry. Inform your practice by using evidence, questioning and evaluating your practice routinely.

  • For the mentees and mentors: Be able to say, ‘I don’t know.’ There will always be a way to find out.

    —Becky P.

    Saying “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” is a fundamental skill in progressive and critical care nursing, because evidence and technology are always changing. The patients we see in progressive and critical care are tremendously ill. The nurses are very smart, and even those just a few months ahead seem very sure of themselves from the orientee’s perspective. Share this message with your mentee early and often.

  • 8Use advocacy and moral agency to identify and resolve ethical and clinical questions.

  • To the mentor: You are the model that represents the nursing profession. Hope for the best. Be prepared to address the worst.

    —Janice M.

New nurses come into the profession very excited to become the professional they have trained to be. We know that road and can use our experience to support the new nurse through their first patient death, a nurse bullying situation, a moral dilemma and moral distress.

This is the finest line to walk to determine whether to intervene or to support your mentee in addressing the problem themselves. Use your experience and the tools available in your organization. And, if you need to, return to your own mentor for support and advice. We are always learning and growing ourselves.

What is your advice for mentors and mentees?

Each of us knows a tidbit that has stuck with us since our early days of nursing or something that we like to tell new nurses in the unit. Please share your advice in the comments.