Improving Nurse Mentorship Programs

Nurse mentorship programs can be a rewarding experience for both mentees and experienced nurses. We as nurses need to end the culture of bullying each other and eradicate “nurses eating their young” to ensure a safe environment for both nurses and patients.

There is a common saying in nursing that “nurses eat their young” which unfortunately still holds true today. New nurses are often “hazed” when they begin their career, starting as early as nursing school. Fresh-faced nurses come on the unit eager to learn, and seasoned nurses take a “trial by fire” approach while orienting. Obviously, there is a lot to learn as a new RN, but there are better ways to teach instead of intimidation. Sometimes it seems that new nurses are given the most challenging assignments, constant admissions, and aren’t offered assistance until they are drowning.

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA) between 18 to 31% of nurses report experiencing bullying at work. Workplace violence can be any activity in which the nurse feels they have experienced harm. Peer mentorships have been implemented successfully to combat workplace violence.

Nurse Mentorship

Negative workplace activities may include:

  • Criticism
  • Scapegoating
  • Intimidation
  • Withholding information
  • Passive aggressiveness
  • Gossiping
  • Insubordination
  • Bullying by fellow nurses or by nurse managers
  • Verbal or physical aggression

Bullying in the workplace can have a significant impact on a nurse’s career. PACERS© has published a toolkit for empowering healthcare leaders to identify, intervene and prevent workplace bullying© at stopbullyingtoolkit.org. They acknowledge that up to 21% of nurses leave their units due to incivility

Participating in a nurse mentorship program where experienced nurses serve as role models and instructors may be a solution to eliminate nurse bullying. The nurse mentor provides direction and assistance while encouraging independent thinking, critical reasoning, and ensures safe, effective care. Nurse mentorship programs can help create a positive, safe space to learn for new nurses. Participating in these programs can set a positive example for other nurses.

Trial by Fire

I began my career in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, although I was extremely grateful and excited for my new position, I was also very anxious with my new role that required keeping tiny babies alive. I already knew most of the nurses on my unit because I was a nurse extern on the mother baby floor and considered myself well liked by the staff. 

After completing half of my orientation on day shift, I moved to nights and was completely caught off guard with their approach to “helping” me. I was given the busiest, most difficult assignments, attended every delivery which usually meant I had to switch assignments to admit a baby almost every shift, and had a new assignment almost every night I worked.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize experiencing everything is vital to becoming a good nurse, but I didn’t feel like I was learning anything, I felt like I was just trying to stay afloat and putting out little fires everywhere. I remember distinctly one night having a tough assignment, I hadn’t eaten the whole shift and was trying to weigh a baby outside of an isolette with all of their tubes and wires and I felt helpless. Every other nurse on the unit was sitting at the desk eating and laughing saying, “oh do you need help.” A unit secretary actually noticed how I was being treated and went to management about it. I vowed I would never treat a new nurse that way when I became a more seasoned nurse. Years later, when it was my turn to orient new nurses, I would go out of my way to make them feel welcomed and supported. I quickly gained a reputation as “the go to person” when newer nurses had questions. I had a knack for teaching and enjoyed showing them the ropes. When the unit educator and clinical coordinator approached me to help pilot a new mentorship program in the NICU, which would be the first in our hospital system, I jumped at the opportunity.

How to Create a Mentor Program

  1. Create a policy
  2. Hold meetings with new staff and mentors
  3. Take personality tests to match up mentors with mentees
  4. 9 month long program after orientation is completed.
  5. Educational component and checklist each month.
  6. Accompany the new nurse to unit events or conferences.
  7. Have mentee choose 1 to 2 nurses to ask to be their mentor.
We created a buddy system so that the new nurse never felt alone, they always had nurses to go to for any question they may have without fear or judgement. This program held the less experienced nurse and seasoned nurse accountable, and became an extension to orientation. The nurse was provided a safe learning environment instead of just being thrown into a situation without experience. We noticed less bullying from seasoned nurses, new nurses thrived, and became confident in their role. Learn more about How to Mentor a First-Time Nurse.

Benefits of Mentorship in Nursing

Walden University lists 5 Benefits of Mentorship in Nursing:
  • Help solve problems
  • Offer emotional support
  • Help build confidence
  • Guide career

Nurse mentorships build confidence

  • Allows new nurses to build relationships with staff.
  • New nurses are able to provide safe and efficient care to patients.
  • Nurses also gain confidence in their role much quicker than if they were on their own.
  • Having a mentor increases job satisfaction and lessens anxiety.
Nurse mentorship programs can be a rewarding experience for both mentees and experienced nurses. We as nurses need to end the culture of bullying each other and eradicate “nurses eating their young” to ensure a safe environment for both nurses and patients.

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