Jen Busse, RN, MPH, is an intern at the Center for Health, Media and Policy at Hunter College in New York City and is currently pursuing her MSN as a family nurse practitioner at Columbia University. This is her second post about studying to be an NP. Her first was “An NP Prepares: When Normal is Better Than Fine.”

While we watch schools of nursing significantly increasing class sizes in a stalled economy, students are still being told that new nurses should “have no trouble” securing jobs upon graduating. Advancing our careers won’t be an issue either, we’re told.

We new nurses, in masses, are then sent out to fend for ourselves. Many schools of nursing lack career services help for students—possibly due to the myth of the “nursing shortage.”

Well, I’m here to tell you, from the evidence gathered in my own laborious, and mostly fruitless, job search, that archaic ideas about the ease of finding a position as a nurse are dead wrong. What we really want to do is to take care of patients, not spend years of our lives searching for an opportunity to do so. 

So in steps the nurse mentor—if you’re lucky.

Unfortunately, career mentorship for many new and experienced nurses is rare, creating difficulties in securing a job or advancing one’s career. Without role models, it’s difficult to feel motivated or to gain confidence in your abilities. A seasoned professional or trusted peer is crucial in providing helpful advice, guidance, and inspiration. Nurse mentors offer protégés their knowledge and wisdom, in the process creating a legacy for future generations through the creation of new nurse leaders.

I was incredibly fortunate to find two women, both important nurse leaders, Barbara Glickstein and Diana Mason (bios here). They helped to pull me out of my despair of joblessness, when I had all but abandoned my hopes of working in nursing, and have helped to guide me to what I now see as a promising future in this field. They’ve helped me build my confidence, especially through writing about health-related issues, and shown me that I do have something special to offer to the field of nursing.

Nurse mentors like Ms. Glickstein and Dr. Mason will be crucial in the age of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Institute of Medicine and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Report on the Future of Nursing (summarized in this AJN article). Nurse mentoring is integral in promoting the role and scope of practice of nurses. Proof that we must modify the way we perceive professional and personal development in the field of nursing lies in the language of this report:

“Nurses’ roles, responsibilities, and education should change significantly to meet the increased demand for care that will be created by healthcare reform and to advance improvements in America’s increasingly complex health system. . . . Nurses should be fully engaged with other health professionals and assume leadership roles in redesigning care in the United States.”

In a book entitled Fast Facts for Career Success in Nursing, Dr. Connie Vance writes: “When nurses help each other, everyone benefits—including our patients.” This is ultimately always the goal of our profession: better patient care. If we are not able to advance our profession—an ongoing process in which nurse mentoring can play a crucial role—how will we do this?

We have to focus on current nurses and the next generation to offer them the tools needed to make superior patient care a reality. It’s crucial to create more nurse-mentoring programs in hospitals, career-mentoring services at schools of nursing, and residency possibilities in hospitals and health-related organizations for both nursing students and practicing nurses wishing to further their careers.

The rewards of nurse mentorship are not one-sided. Ideally, the relationship is reciprocal, allowing the mentor and protégé to enrich each others’ lives. The protégé offers a unique perspective on current issues, ease with technology and creativity, as well as new insights on old ideas. Watching and being part of the growth of a new nurse may be just as rewarding to the mentor as experiencing personal and professional growth from their mentor’s guidance is to the protégé.

My mentor–protégé relationship with Ms. Glickstein and Dr. Mason was never a formal one. It’s possible to create such a relationship by just asking for help, but it helps to show that you have something to offer as well. It’s important for all nurses, schools of nursing, and medical centers to understand that mentorship is vital to the survival of our profession, as well as in furthering the key components of nursing: quality patient care and advocacy.

Have you taken part in such a relationship?

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