The nursing shortage has been both a boon and a disaster for new nurses entering the job market. On one hand, you’re guaranteed a job. The demand and opportunity in almost every area of the country is tremendous. On the other, the additional responsibilities of fewer nurses on shift can make the lives of all nurses more difficult.
To combat the emotional fatigue, many hospitals have adopted a mentor program to help retain experienced nurses and ease the transition of new nurses into the workplace. Part of the decline of nursing staff can be blamed on the demanding nature of the job, along with the stress inherent to patient care, but the atmosphere of the facility can either counter the stress or add to it. A smart health care facility management is proactive, encouraging a nurturing and positive environment by pairing experienced nurses with new hires.
Without guidance, nurses entering the workforce can quickly become overwhelmed, resulting in poor job performance and a decline in morale. I’ve seen this happen firsthand. In turn, the onus falls on senior nurses to keep up the standards of patient care, a situation that can lead to dissatisfaction at work. It’s in the best interest of all concerned to help relieve the stress for nurses both new and old. Mentoring is one way to relieve the stress, helping the new nurses understand the job and deal with the stress, and relieving the burden on the older nurses by producing more competent new ones.
When mentors share knowledge and experience, they narrow the gap between expectations and experience for new nurses, fostering camaraderie as they improve their own job outlook by training co-workers to competency. The mentee, on the other hand, can offer enthusiasm and fresh insights…and maybe a much-needed refresher course on how important the job of nursing is. Appreciation is a powerful thing, and it’s easy to lose sight of your own value while lost in the daily grind. Teaching, coaching, and advising are affirming activities, and remind us of our own worth. A mentor who really understands and embraces the concept will allow the mentee to grow under her tutelage and, at the same time, allow the mentee to shine, and perhaps to offer some advice of her own.
Mentoring is proven to produce a higher retention rate among new nurses who might have otherwise washed out of the program or gone on to seek a different environment, but the drawback is in perception. Experienced nurses must be encouraged to see the benefit. Otherwise, it’s just one more chore on an already crowded list. One way to encourage a friendly reception is to suggest that mentoring sessions are held at lunch or in an atmosphere away from the workstation. An investment in enrichment classes or weekend seminars may prove to be invaluable in terms of morale.
Not every nurse will be qualified to be a mentor. The best mentors should be experienced, but not jaded or bitter, friendly and compassionate but professional. Good listening skills are a must, and good rapport with other facility staff a big plus. With careful education and support offered by the administration, a nurse mentoring program is a win-win situation for everybody – administration, nurses, doctors, and most importantly, patients.