How Can you Become a Better Mentor to Nursing Students?

Mentoring can be a fantastic opportunity for you and your mentee, especially when you mentor well.  It can fill you with a deep sense of pride as you watch your protégés become exceptional nurses.  You also attract the attention and respect of your colleagues and staff who identify you as someone that values employee development and talent retention.  What’s more, mentoring can advance your career, especially if you are willing to take a critical look at how you lead and adapt your approach for varying personalities and learning styles.  As you continue to mentor you plant the seed for other members of your team (including your nursing students) to do the same—which in the long run fosters good will in the workplace, boosts morale, and propagates excellent patient care.   So how can you be the mentor of all mentors?  What does it mean to mentor well?  If you want to be confident and at ease in this critical role, here are some points to consider.

Put Yourself In Your Trainees Shoes

Remember what it felt like to enter the nursing profession with a ton of book smarts but hardly any clinical experience?  What about when you switched nursing specialties and had to learn a new set of skills?  Do the words vulnerable, overwhelmed, hesitant, and fearful come to mind?  If your good fortune brought you face to face with a mentor who helped you squelch those emotions by encouraging you every step of the way, that’s the kind of mentor you want to be.  The first day of training will be fraught with jitters by your underlings.  It’s your job to immediately put them at ease.  Crack a joke or tell a personal story that spells out the insecurity you felt during your preceptorship or mention a mistake you made that nearly crushed your self-esteem.  Showing a little bit of self-deprecation humanizes you and calms your mentee’s concerns.

Be Perceptive

New nurses can be hesitant to admit when they don’t understand what they think they are expected to know.  Fear of being singled out and ridiculed by you or other nursing students on the rotation can hold them back.  Although you can’t read your nursing student’s thoughts, you can get quite good at reading their body language.  Lip-biting, nail-picking, sighing, toe-tapping, and fidgeting are typically signs of anxiety.  When you notice these behaviors, be sure to stop and take pause.  Emphasize how the procedures and protocols presented during training take time to grasp.  Then, in a welcoming tone, invite questions or concerns.  Praise your mentee for asking questions.  If you still sense that something is clouding their understanding, take them aside privately and ask for feedback.  You might say, “I realize that today’s procedure was a bit of a stretch and will take time to master.  Anything you want to discuss?  I am all ears.”

Welcome Feedback

As you mentor your student nurse, schedule a 15 minute meeting at the end of your shift (or theirs) to discuss the dealings of the day.  Encourage your student to share any concerns or misgivings about their training.  Be prepared to accept the possibility that your teaching style might not be in sync with how your mentee learns.  They might tell you that their recent schooling taught them an easier or more time-effective way to perform a complicated procedure you covered during rounds that day.  In the long run, when you show your mentee you care about what they have to say and are open to their way of doing things you can count on them to outperform peers who feel stifled by a mentor that discourages candor.

Be Available

Mistakes in the workplace are common even for some of the most skilled nurses.  To avoid having your mentee be stuck in the middle of a medical mishap, make sure you are always nearby or accessible by text or phone (barring your days off, of course).  When you are available to help your mentee on the spot, you help to avert a potentially serious patient calamity and might prevent similar mistakes from happening again.

Create A Relaxed Relationship

Invite your mentees to take breaks with you.  Get to know them on a personal level.  Some boundaries are necessary, but the more you know about a mentee, the easier it will be to instruct and critique them.  Exchanging personal anecdotes and nursing stories reveals a lot about how your mentee thinks and responds in a variety of situations.  These casual discussions also add levity and build trust.

Consider Your Mentee’s Self-Esteem

Most nursing students begin their training insecure about their shortcomings and limitations.   When it’s time to evaluate their performance or offer feedback, be sure to cushion every negative remark with several things they have done well.  Room for improvement is easier to accept when your mentee knows that you also recognize their accomplishments.

Practice Confidentiality

Refrain from sharing your mentee’s mistakes with colleagues.  Think back to the mistakes you made in your early nursing days and imagine the betrayal and embarrassment you would have felt if you discovered that your mentor discussed your errors with their team.  If you want your mentees to learn from their mistakes and not feel uneasy about coming to you when they make one, give them reason to believe you are a trustworthy leader.  Likewise, be careful not to scorn or complain about a colleague or ridicule a patient in the presence of a mentee.  Remember, a big part of being an exceptional mentor is demonstrating tact and discretion.

Go It Alone Every Now And Then

Mentoring can be exhausting.  Although you want to be readily available for your mentee, it’s okay to take a few shifts solo to recharge your batteries and avoid mentor burnout.  Your nursing students will thank you.

For more information on issues that affect your employees and your workplace rely on BOS Medical Staffing.  Since 2008, our Georgia-based staffing firm has brought talented nurses, therapists and medical administrators together with top facilities.  Contact BOS Medical today to talk about customized staffing solutions.

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