How many times have you heard the off-the-cuff comment, “Nurses eat their young”? This banter comes from seasoned staff nurses, supervisors and managers whose initial influence on graduate nurses could mean the difference between a successful nursing career or another disappointing resignation. In a century marked by severe nursing shortages, such outcomes indirectly influence adequate staffing levels and the delivery of health care.
Mentoring—providing one-to-one guidance from an experienced nurse to a new graduate—is an effective retention strategy to help reverse the nursing shortage. The connections mentors build influence the future direction of the profession. One key to the retention and professional growth of new graduates may be the positive first impression, effective training and supportive atmosphere provided by a mentor. Nurse authors Connie Vance and Roberta Olson write about the mentor connection, suggesting, “The complexity of a nursing career requires a substantial and consistent support system to ensure success and satisfaction.”1Vance and Olson further explain that “A mentor advises, guides, encourages and inspires another person during an extended period of time.”2 Experienced nurses are the best resource available to help nursing students step into their role as health care professionals by providing a positive and supportive environment.
Although mentoring has been underutilized in nursing, it is more important today than ever. As more nurses are being asked to perform this nurturing role, Christian mentors are especially equipped to offer support, information and counseling to our inexperienced colleagues. We have an excellent mentor to emulate—Jesus Christ.
As mentor, Jesus called his disciples to “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Mt 4:19). Christ mentored his disciples, providing detailed teaching about his message, instructions in preaching and guidance for a prayerful life. He showed his disciples how they should live and enjoy spiritual fellowship with God. Jesus demonstrated immeasurable patience and provided helpful feedback to his fearful, doubting disciples in a boat swamped by waves (Mt 8:23–27), as well as among a huge crowd of hungry people (Mt 15:32–38). Instead of a demoralizing rebuff, he amazed the disciples with his power over nature and his ability to provide unlimited resources.
When the hungry disciples plucked ears of grain from the fields, the Pharisees chastised them saying, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath” (Mt 12:2). People weren't supposed to work on the sabbath, and plucking grain was considered work. Jesus provided moral support and defended his mentees, citing examples from Scripture when human need took precedence over the Law of Moses (Lev 24:5–9; 1 Sam 21:1–6), and the priority of mercy over legal obligations (Hos 6:6). Jesus settles the matter fully when he identifies himself as lord of the sabbath and one who determines what is truly lawful or unlawful (Mt 12:6–8).
While preaching from hillsides above and boats below, Jesus told puzzling parables that baffled his followers. When questions arose, Jesus was prepared. Invariably the understanding mentor, he paused, gave detailed explanations and concluded with “Have you understood all this?” (Mt 13:51).
Jesus, as mentor, served as an exemplary role model, leading his disciples through change and risk-taking, expanding their skills and knowledge in preparation for their new careers. He then charged them to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:19–20).
As Christian nurses we can follow Christ's example and become caring mentors who nurture and help ready our inexperienced colleagues for the demands of the career. Don't wait for a request from a superior; volunteer to become a mentor. Whether you are a formal mentor or not, Vance and Olson remind us to “Develop a mind-set of mentoring wherever you are—remembering that mentoring is an attitude of mind and heart.”3
Strategies to employ in your mentoring assignment:
- Attempt to anticipate the mentee's needs. We were all new once, and you may recall problems you encountered as a novice. Your struggles may prove to be their struggles, and your recollections may provide insight into areas of difficulty before they are encountered. Your early recognition of potential issues could help reduce esteem-stripping errors and rising stress levels.
- Offer to pray for or with your mentee about client or caregiver concerns, demonstrating a holistic nursing approach and allowing you to care for those you mentor.
- Rely on fellow mentors to establish a cohesive support team, thereby providing a Christian network that the mentee can draw from in your absence.
- Share stories of how God has helped you in your nursing practice. Thinking Christianly about health care and having the courage to ask God for help is a valuable lesson for your mentee.
- Show Christ's love by creating an atmosphere of compassion, peace and acceptance for all clients. Demonstrate Christian love and excellent nursing care for your most difficult or rewarding clients.
Through mentoring, Christian nurses can choose to nurture their young into a successful nursing career, rather than helping them out the door or out of the profession.
1 Connie Vance and Roberta K. Olson, The Mentor Connection in Nursing
(New York: Springer Publishing, 1998), p. 13.