When Connie Vance, EdD, RN, FAAN, entered nursing decades ago, the word “mentor” was barely in the profession’s vocabulary.
“Preceptor,” she said. “That was our word that came closest to approximating what mentors do.”
But thanks in no small part to her efforts, Vance, author of “Fast Facts for Career Success in Nursing: Making the Most of Mentoring in a Nutshell,” has witnessed mentorship swell within nursing, as nurses grasp the power of nurses helping other nurses realize their potential. To help nurses gain the most from mentorship, Vance offers a few tips:
Just do it
Every professional needs a mentor, Vance said – and that definitely includes nurses.
“You can succeed in nursing without mentors,” Vance said. “But the road is so much tougher, more lonely and far less fun.”
While new nurses may need the most intense kind of mentoring, all nurses – “in different seasons, for different reasons,” Vance said – should find someone who can help them attain their personal and professional development goals.
Mentors are out there
Potential mentors can be found in a variety of settings. Naturally, nurses may wish to begin with managers and others in more senior positions.
But nursing peers, whether in the workplace, in professional associations or even on social media, can serve as mentors, Vance said.
“Link in, join in, go to where the mentors are,” she said. “You can’t just go from work to home, sit in front of the TV and wonder, ‘How can I find a mentor?’”
And once a mentor is found, she recommended nurses not limit themselves to just one. Instead, she said, nurses should find as many people as possible who may hold an interest in their work and their success, and from whom they can learn.
Compatibility is key
Ideally, a mentor will represent someone a protégé will wish to emulate. So, Vance said, finding a mentor with the right attributes can be key.
Find someone who displays great professional and personal characteristics; someone who shares values; someone who is actually successful in some way; who cares for people.
“This is someone you want to be like,” Vance said. “So find someone who inspires you to higher levels.”
Reverse your role
Nurses, however, should not seek only to be mentored, Vance said. As their own experience, knowledge and skill grows, nurses should also seek to mentor others.
She encouraged nurses to volunteer in formal mentorship programs in healthcare organizations and professional associations, and be willing to mentor other nurses informally.
“We need to constantly be on the lookout to identify and promote that talent,” Vance said. “We each have an obligation to each other.”
Dress for success
Even the best potential mentors have no obligation to mentor anyone. So, it falls to prospective proteges to ensure they are mentorship material.
She recommended trying to get to know the mentor professionally before asking to be mentored, in the process demonstrating a passion for nursing and a desire to improve.
“Good mentors can be a scarce resource, and so valuable,” Vance said. “If you want a good one, you have to make yourself attractive to them, professionally.”