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Managing Your Career
A Mentor for Your Success
Every new nurse should have one.

“Find a mentor” is a phrase verging on cliché. But it became a call-to-arms because it worked. If you are a new nurse, a mentor relationship can work for you—to answer your questions, guide you through conflict, or discuss your next career move.

RealityRN senior advisory board member and nursing professor Cecelia Gatson Grindel, PhD, RN, CMSRN, FAAN, talks straight about the benefits of a mentor, what to look for in a mentor, and how to go about finding one:

What is a mentor relationship?
Dr. Grindel: It is a relationship between a seasoned nurse and a new nurse, built to support each other in a variety of ways.

What are the benefits for a new nurse?
New RNs can gather confidence about their practice. Often times they are a little overwhelmed with their new setting. They can use the mentor as a springboard for bouncing ideas about the practice. They also learn how to problem solve, not only in relation to clinical practice but also in regard to relationships within the organization.

Mentors can help mentees learn how to communicate and represent themselves well as well as set career goals.

How does it benefit the mentor?
Mentors usually find great satisfaction watching someone they’ve mentored grow in their career. It’s why I get involved with people who have a lot of potential but just need a little boost along the way.

Should mentees look within or outside the institution they’re working in for a mentor?
You should look at least outside the unit. Often a new nurse gets placed with a preceptor (sometimes the term “mentor” is used). But a mentoring relationship is not necessarily a forced relationship, and the relationship with a preceptor generally does not build into a mentor/mentee relationship. And if the mentor/mentee relationship happens on the unit, the exchange is limited by the fact that the preceptor must report the mentee’s progress to the nurse manager. This suggestion of authority can limit frank discussions that the mentee would like to have with the mentor.

Can you give an example?
Say a mentee has difficulty with one of the other staff members or with a nurse manager. She can’t talk about that with her mentor if they both work for the same person. Also, when you both work on the same unit, people tend to talk. How can you have a confidential relationship about building your career and practice if you can’t talk openly?

A student of mine went to work in the D.C. area. One time she wrote to tell me about a nurse who criticized her for a clinical decision she made. She specifically asked me if she made the correct choice, and I affirmed that she had. In that situation, she couldn’t ask anybody else in her unit. She needed to work out how she was going to handle it outside of work.

So how does a new nurse find a mentor?
Your mentor could be in the hospital that you’re working at. Most nurses know other nurses outside their institution, a friend they can call on and build a relationship with. That’s the most elemental mentor/mentee relationship. You may also consider contacting a professor from college or nursing school (one with clinical practice experience)—they also make great mentors.

What makes a strong mentor?
They have strong clinical skills, though they don’t have to perfectly align with the mentee’s clinical skills. For example, the student I was just telling you about works in ICU. I never did, but I’ve worked in med-surg so I could relate to what she was talking about. I know enough about the content.

A strong mentor is also open to dialogue—not merely telling a mentee what to do. Mentees need someone who will listen, someone they can bounce ideas off of, and someone they communicate freely with about anything and everything.

A mentor can give you perspective; they can help you improve your skills; and they can help you gain confidence. But in the end, they can’t do your hard work for you. Your mentor should stay in the background—you’re the front person. And, remember, when you shine, you’re going to get the glory for it.

Cecelia Gatson Grindel, PhD, RN, CMSRN, FAAN, is associate director for graduate programs at Georgia State University ( in Atlanta, Georgia, and a RealityRN senior advisory board member.

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