Despite years of classes and studying, new nurses really have no idea what they are up against until they finally hit the floor on their own. That’s when reality strikes, and they realize exactly how much responsibility they really have.
You may have already forgotten those days, when you second-guessed every decision and feared the wrath of the more experienced nurses coming down on you. Now that you are in the more experienced pack, you have a great opportunity to mentor new nurses, show them the ropes, and set them on a course towards nursing excellence.
To be a good nurse mentor you need to be willing to work closely with new nurses. This is a time and energy investment that not only benefits the nurse you have under your wings, it will benefit the entire industry in the long run. If you are willing to take on that challenge, maximize the experience for both you and your student nurses by following these tips:
- Be Willing to Share Your Expertise – A good nurse mentor cannot be greedy with the expertise they have obtained by their time in the field. Share the knowledge and skills that you have gained over the years freely, providing them with valuable information that will not only help them in their career, but that could help improve their quality of patient care.
- Stay Positive – No one wants to be trained by someone who clearly is not happy in that role. Maintain a positive attitude with your mentee, even when they mess up a little. A good training rule to follow when you have to offer criticism is to cushion one negative remark with three positive. This type of feedback lets the new nurse know that you are just as aware of the good things you do as you are of the bad.
- Hear What They Have to Say – When your mentee is talking, listen carefully. Not only to the words, but to how they are saying them. Read their body language for signs of nervousness or apprehension and gauge the tone of their voice. A new nurse may try and put up a brave front when faced with having to do something new, but if you can get a sense of how they really feel, you will be in a better position to guide them.
- Make it Personal – The more you know about your nursing mentee, the easier it will be to instruct them. Don’t be shy about sharing personal anecdotes, and encourage them to do the same. This opens up the lines of communication to make them feel at ease in asking you anything. Have your lunch with them, or just share a cup of coffee at the start of the shift. You will learn a lot about the nursing student during these casual encounters that can help you to better instruct them.
- Lighten Up – Yes, being a nurse is serious business, but try and lighten the mood when you can. Show your enthusiasm for the position and laugh during your shifts with your student nurse and they will soon learn to love working alongside you.
- Accept That You Might Not Know Everything – While you have the experience under your belt, a newly graduated nurse has the book smarts at the forefront of her mind. Since it may have been a (long) while since you’ve picked up a nursing text book, accept that they may have learned a new trick or two that you don’t know.
- Keep it Confidential – Practice the same privacy policies you have with your patients with a nurse in training. As much as you may want to share with your peers the mistakes of the day, remember, you at one point were making those same errors. If you lose the trust of your student nurse by sharing their trials and tribulations, you lose the chance to help make them a valuable member of our industry.
- Walk the Walk – Nurses interact with dozens of people during one shift. From patients and family members to doctors and radiologists. Set a good example by consistently being respectful with everyone you come into contact with. You don’t want a new nurse to believe that it is acceptable to ridicule a patient behind their back or talk down to another staff member. Set the right tone now to avoid any problems in the future.
- Be Available – Not on your off days of course, but when you are on shift, make sure that you are always accessible and responsive to your student nurses. Your experience has likely taught you that it only takes a split second for disaster to strike. To avoid having your mentee stuck in the middle of one alone, never let them go too far out of your reach.
- Take a Break – Mentoring student nurses can be mentally exhausting, so if you feel like you need a break, ask for one. No one will blame you for wanting to work a shift once in a while without having to be responsible for teaching at the same time. Mentoring burn-out will only lead to bad mentoring, which will result in a negative experience for the student nurse.
If you are willing to invest the time it takes to mentor a student nurse, don’t take the role lightly. Make your expectations clear, yet attainable, while being a good role model and the student nurses under your charge will grow to become professionals that you will be proud to work with.