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More than Just a Preceptor
How mentors help new nurses succeed.

You just finished your precepting experience. Overall, it was positive, but you still have a bazillion-and-one questions. While your preceptor said you could ask her anything, for some reason your personalities just didn’t click—you don’t feel comfortable continuing to ask for support.

Maybe it’s time you looked for a mentor, someone who shares similar goals and who will support you for the long haul of your nursing career.

Pioneer in the field of nurse mentoring and editor of The Mentor Connection in Nursing, Connie Vance, EDd, RN, FAAN, shares what a mentor relationship is and how to find a mentoring relationship that will work for you:

So how does a new nurse find a mentor?

First, you’ll need to pursue a relationship in which there’s some shared goals, shared styles of working, a commitment to the profession, and a shared vision of where you’re heading.

You’ve also got to make yourself mentorable-- as someone who is willing to work, passionate, and committed. For a new nurse, this means asking to be exposed to many experiences, volunteering, asking for feedback, and following up with questions about how you are doing. Mentorable nurses often keep a journal and regularly reflect on their practices. They are also the ones who have a “Can I help?” mentality. If they have extra time, they volunteer to deal with a difficult patient or help out a co-nurse who is swamped.

Mentorable nurses take their profession seriously and go above what’s expected.

What can’t a mentor do for the new nurse?

The mentor can’t make the protégée receive the gifts of mentorship. A mentor may offer a ton of encouragement, but the protégée ultimately decides what to grab onto. The protégée has to be receptive—has to follow the opportunities the mentor opens up to him/her.

At its core, what’s mentoring really all about?

The mentor connection is a human connection. It’s a professional as well as personal relationship in which there’s reciprocity of sharing, learning, and growing. As we all know, when you’re in a good relationship, everyone gets something out of it.

It’s also a historical, psychological, and developmental model. In a way, it’s very much like parent-to-child, teacher-to-student relationships – it’s a way of learning and growing in life. When we watch other people whom we admire, we imitate them.

How similar are preceptor relationships and mentoring relationships?

A preceptor is like a coach or a guide for a specific goal or role, and usually with a time limit. Mentoring includes precepting, but is less about the current position and more about the career.

Mentors are there for the long haul and to help the new nurse see the big picture.

Is mentoring prevalent?

Mentoring in nursing is more of an underground thing. The word is not in our language, in our literature, or in our lecture halls. However, the leaders in our field all claim that along the way they had had some type of mentor. These mentors are not only nurses but are hospital administrators and doctors.

Studies actually show that 85 percent of leaders can name their mentors and over 90 percent say they are doing the same thing for people coming behind them. So there’s really a “generational” aspect to this. Leaders grow leaders. That’s the way it works.

Why does this work so well?

Protégées will not make as many mistakes, will have doors opened to them, and will have clearly cited goals. It’s easier to make it in life and in your profession. Of course, you can make it in life without mentors—but it’s harder.

The outcome of being mentored is success and satisfaction. Now, how you define success and satisfaction, that’s something else. But no question about it, people who have these kinds of deep relationships have an advantage.

Read more Precepting articles

One Response to “More than Just a Preceptor”

  1. Patty H. Says:

    I think the concept of a mentor is exactly what I need to maintain high standards of patient care. I don’t feel sharing career goals with fellow workers is the right thing to do. However, to maintain the focus on long range goals in a world filled with feeling like a perpetual “newbie” is almost enough to make me forget why I studied so hard to become an RN. I can think of a few accomplished RN’s with like minded priorities and values. A good place to start.
    I feel re-focused on a positive action instead of all the frustrations

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