Nada Hannawi, RN, BSN, went through tough times in nursing school, but she never felt alone thanks to mentors, who kept her on track.
Today, Hannawi is a labor and delivery nurse at HackensackUMC Mountainside Hospital, Montclair, N.J.
Hannawi remembers a pivotal point in nursing school when she needed to improve her score after taking an NCLEX practice exam. The study protocol was to complete more than 1,000 NCLEX sample questions, watch videos and take notes. That was on top of a daunting student workload.
Patricia Munno, RN, MSN, a professor at Felician College in Lodi, N.J., helped Hannawi get organized and take one step at a time.
“She sat down with me, one-on-one, in her office, got out a calendar and we mapped out the upcoming weeks, to complete the work in time,” Hannawi said.
Hannawi said her mentor did more than help her with the nuts and bolts of studying.
“She provided me with emotional support to get through this tough time,” she said. “She met with me on a weekly basis to check my progress. I truly believe that I would have never been able to do it without her.”
Nursing schools use different approaches to mentor their students.
Faculty mentor nursing students at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., according to Susan Saladino, RN, PhD, chairwoman of the college’s department of nursing.
“What we do here that is a little different is we have our full-time faculty assigned to teach in the clinical settings, and so they will have a core of students for a long period of time,” Saladino said. “They get to know them over a period of a year.”
Faculty is expected to mentor students as part of the educational experience, according to Saladino.
“We have faculty that have taken groups of students to graduate schools and gone with them to information sessions at graduate programs,” Saladino said.
Denise Gasalberti, RN, PhD, assistant professor, Wagner College, Staten Island, N.Y., said all students in the college’s RN-to-BSN program have a volunteer mentor.
“They are mentored [by] leaders at various hospitals,” she said. “They are working with them side by side in a relationship that includes teaching, counseling, sometimes even career guidance and personal guidance.”
The mentors typically don’t give students answers, but rather help students to find answers, according to Gasalberti.
“Mentors teach you how to think about your problems. They help you to think out of the box,” Gasalberti said.
Jean Conlon-Yoo, RN, MSN, APN, an instructor at Felician, said the college has a formal mentoring program, where incoming students are assigned to faculty members and attend seminars for four semesters.
“The idea behind the seminars is to focus on helping students to socialize into our nursing program as well as begin to socialize into the nursing profession,” she said.
Conlon-Yoo said relationships develop among the students and faculty members, and students learn about available resources, academic success strategies, trends in nursing and more.
“They begin to hear the words and make connections with what they’re going to see in their upcoming courses,” Conlon-Yoo said. “Their faculty member remains their advisor throughout their tenure here at Felician.”
The College of Mount Saint Vincent, Riverdale, N.Y., has a robust mentoring program, but it’s not profession-specific, according to Kristin Lawler, PhD, the program’s director. Rather than focus on skills for a specific career, mentors work with students on general course work and life lessons. Mentors might guide students in networking, leadership, decision-making, time management and more.
“It’s really about a relationship between a student and someone who wants to help them develop to their full potential,” Lawler said.
The College of Mount Saint Vincent’s mentoring program is for select students. Students have to be nominated to apply, and then there is a multistage application process.
“I would certainly love to have a mentor for every student who I think would benefit from the relationship, but it’s a big commitment and the kinds of mentors that we recruit are highly successful people,” Lawler said.
Bonding, trust are key
It is the informal aspect of mentoring that helps mentors bond and form a trusting relationship with mentees, according to Michael Valenti, RN, MS, adjunct faculty member, St. Francis College.
Valenti didn’t intend to go to graduate school or even pursue a BSN, but he achieved both and is working on his doctorate, he said, because of a mentor’s guidance.
“Dr. Saladino had always been a very strong advocate for advancing my education,” Valenti said. “I found she was a very caring person. She was a very honest person and she truly had such a wealth of information to share and made students feel safe, discussing these things with her.”
A win-win situation
Mentors often aren’t paid for their time or are paid very little. The motivation is the sense of satisfaction from helping students make good choices, learn news skills, gain confidence and make sound decisions.
A good mentor understands the joys of the student-mentor relationship, Lawler said.
“The best mentors are people who find this fun,” she said.
Good mentors often have been mentored themselves. Mentors helped Saladino not only to go to graduate nursing school but also to build the RN-to-BSN program at St. Francis College.
“I think the program we have today is because of that mentoring experience,” Saladino said.
Mentoring, Conlon-Yoo said, helps retain students in Felician’s nursing programs. “I’ve had students that have been struggling and because they have a mentor and somebody who is going to go the extra mile and help them, they stay in the program and are successful,” she said.
Mentoring has far-reaching benefits, according to Gasalberti.
“When you teach nurses to work together, I think that in the long run, you have a stronger nursing community,” she said.