As I continue on the theme of collaboration, I want to focus on mentoring and how we can be mentors to others or find mentors to assist us with our life's journey. I have several questions for you to ponder:
- What is a mentor?
- Do you have a mentor?
- Are you a mentor?
- How do you find a mentor?
- How do you become a mentor?
To begin to understand the concept of mentorship, I looked up the definition and history of mentor: I found the definition in Merriam-Webster as “a trusted counselor or guide.”1 As for the history, it was stated that the history of mentoring came from a character in Homer's epic poem The Odyssey. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca, went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor. Mentor served as the teacher and overseer of Odysseuss' son, Telemachus.1
To conceptually understand mentoring, I want to share my mentor story and how it molded me in my trauma-nursing career.
I remember my interview for a nursing position in the shock trauma unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital back in 1989. I was interviewed by the head nurse and the advanced practice nurse (APN), and they asked me some pretty pointed questions. I left feeling nervous and anxious and asking myself whether or not I was cut out for this unit, a trauma intensive care unit (ICU). But I also left feeling excited—which is a feeling not often felt after leaving an interview. I felt a bond and an unspoken confidence with the APN. I was offered the job and I started working in the shock trauma ICU in September 1989.
The APN assigned a preceptor to me who was great. He actually was very kind and patient and taught me quite a bit about the concept of trauma (I was not trained as a trauma nurse. I had neuro and surgical ICU experience, but not trauma). But it was the APN toward whom I gravitated and she also gravitated toward me. I was in awe of what she did everyday and how she sophistically carried herself through rounds and through the resuscitations of critically injured patients; how she spoke to patients and families; and most specifically, how she handled every nurse in that unit from the novice to the expert. She made all of us feel at ease when the “you know what” was starting to hit the fan.
Her name was M.J.O. (if she is reading this today, thank you for everything you have done for me). The bond we formed was not planned; it was voluntary, and it felt right. I looked up to her and what she displayed as an expert trauma nurse and she pulled me under her wing not because she was assigned to me but because she knew that we had something special and that I wanted to be the best trauma nurse I could be.
Over the years, our paths parted, but eventually, we were reunited while I was in my Master's degree program, still in shock trauma. The hospital restructured, and she came back to the unit, as our director and they decentralized the APN positions once again to be unit based.
I remember being interviewed for this APN position within the shock trauma unit and being offered the job. Remember, how they used to teach you not to be too anxious about accepting a position right away. You were supposed to say “Let me discuss this offer with my family and I will get back to you in the morning.” I said this to M.J.O. and she said “Are you kidding me, you know you want this, there is nothing to think about, you have been driving and proving yourself that you are right for this position since I have known you, there is nothing to think about.” She had the confidence in me because she mentored me to get there. She was right; there was nothing to think about. I took the job and the two of us now worked together in a capacity that nourished both of us for many years to come.
I do not see M.J.O. that much anymore, but whenever I think about mentoring, I think back on the years we had together and the lessons she has taught me, and many of those teachings have and are still guiding me through my career.
So to answer the questions I posed earlier, let me throw some descriptive words out about what a mentor is:
- draws on strengths,
- role model,
- celebrates accomplishments and forgives failures, and
- acts freely.
A mentor is an individual, usually older, always more experienced, who helps and guides another individual's development.1 Mentoring often happens when you are least expecting it. It can be spontaneous, it is usually voluntary, and it requires a natural bond between 2 people, not a forced bond. The mentor's goals for the protégé are to use their own critical thinking skills to make decisions, to use their own creativity, and to follow their dreams and passions, not someone else's. We often confuse precepting with mentoring, precepting is more “teaching, supervising, and instructing and this is usually assigned.”
So do you have a mentor, if not how do you find one? Sometimes the best place to look is right in front of you. Often the mentor you are looking for is someone you work with everyday or interact with frequently on projects or within meetings. This person you often feel a strong connection to, you look to this person as a role model, you notice how he or she carries himself or herself, and how he or she delivers a message or leads a group. This person could be your mentor; all you have to do is ask; what's the worst that could happen—they may say no? Not likely, they will be flattered that you have asked them and they will take great pride in having this relationship. Mentoring is a nurturing through which the mentor and the mentee will both benefit. You discuss expectations that you both may have and the bond starts there.
How about right within the Society of Trauma Nurses? Do you have a desire to become part of a special interest group? E-mail and call the chair, and ask whether you can be a part of the group or ask the chair to mentor you through the process of becoming part of this group? How about working on one of the various activities that the Society of Trauma Nurses is embarking upon? Watch the Web site, and as projects emerge, contact the leader of that new initiative, express your interest, and ask for some assistance and mentorship to get you started on your journey.
I applaud those who have a mentor. I hope this short message encourages you to continue with your relationship with your mentor; it may encourage you to become a mentor to someone else. So the last few questions I posed to you were how can you become a mentor? That's easy, look around you, you work with a tremendous amount of talent, in the various clinical units, in the administrative areas, in the educational arenas; just take the time to explore the idea. Investigate this concept within your own facility. Many hospitals have embarked on this concept within their senior management teams and have brought the concept to the director levels and even the staff levels. Ask how you can become a mentor to someone, it will be one of the best things you can do. Look right inside your own community; many of us are involved within our churches, local food drives and local food banks, participating in fund raising activities, etc. Any one of these activities offer mentoring opportunities by either being the mentor or being the mentee.
Zig Ziglar, an American author and motivational speaker, once said, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”2 A mentor sees in someone that the individual cannot always see for him or herself. So keep the collaboration efforts going with mentoring—take someone under your wing, enhance your current relationship with your mentor, or seek a mentor for yourself.