Nurse educators play a vital role in the delivery of quality health care. As illnesses and treatments become more complex and patients get older and sicker, it is important to have well-trained and well-qualified nurses in order to manage their treatment and ensure the best possible outcomes. Without nurse educators training nurses and keeping them up-to-date with the latest advances in health care would be all but impossible. Nurses who wish to move into a teaching role must earn an advanced degree in nursing education and seek certification from the appropriate organizations.
Even the most well-prepared and qualified nurse educators could use extra guidance early in their careers. The demands of balancing work and family responsibilities as well as integrating into the culture of a workplace and learning new responsibilities are often overwhelming to a newly credentialed nurse educator. One of the most effective means of getting these new nurse educators on track — and keeping them there throughout their careers — is the use of mentors.
A Support System and Sounding Board
The concept of mentoring is not a new one and is not unique to the field of nursing. Generally speaking, a mentor is someone who provides guidance, advice and support to someone else, usually someone younger or in the early stages of a career. A mentor might serve as a sounding board for dealing with the challenges that come with working in the company or industry, a source of feedback on specific project or an advocate for their mentee among higher ups — or a combination of all three.
Within the realm of nursing, the National League for Nursing holds the official position that health care facilities should develop formal mentoring programs in order to support nurse educators throughout every stage of their nursing careers and create healthy, collaborative work environments. One national study found nursing facilities with mentoring programs are better able to recruit and maintain qualified nurse educators; this in turn strengthens the quality of the nurse workforce and by extension, improves the overall quality of patient care.
Not Just for New Educators
The NLN explains that mentoring programs are not only beneficial to new nurse educators, but can be valuable throughout ones’ entire nursing education career.
Early career nursing faculty benefit from mentors who can “show them the ropes,” so to speak, introducing them to key players, explaining important institutional policies and procedures and serving as a resource for answering questions and solving problems. Ideally, such a partnership should last for the entire first year of a new educator’s career, as he or she becomes accustomed to the organizational culture and the role within it.
Mid-career nurse educators need less guidance on the basics of their role, and therefore their mentoring relationships tend to be more evolutionary and personalized. Nurse educators who have a few years of experience under their belts may be looking at new pedagogical methods and solutions to problems, and might want to work with a mentor who can help them grow with their roles and build skills in specific areas. As many mid-career educators are looking to grow into leadership positions, a mentor at this stage can help with developing those skills and identifying areas for development that will ensure success.
Late career or experienced nurse educators often serve as both a mentor and a mentee. As they generally have several years of experience, they serve as guides to newer educators while also identifying those educators who have potential to move into leadership roles. At the same time, seasoned faculty still face new challenges and must explore new methodologies and changes within the field, and often have collaborative relationships with other educators in order to manage their ever-changing role.
Despite the NLN’s recommendations, not all health care facilities have mentoring programs in place. Among those that do, programs range from formal arrangements in which nurse educators are paired with mentors and must complete a set checklist of requirements, to ad hoc arrangements in which faculty chooses their own mentors; in some cases, faculty will opt to create their own mentoring arrangements without the assistance or involvement of administration. In an era when there is a shortage of qualified nurse educators, though, and the need to attract and retain nursing faculty is so high, any type of mentoring arrangement can make a measurable difference, to educators, nurses and patients.