Formal mentoring: Tool for creating healthy work environments

By Karen W. Ulmer and Heidi J. Beris | 01/22/2019

Unusual mentor-mentee matches can yield unexpected benefits.

Formal mentoring: Tool for creating healthy work environments

Clinical nurses requested help in achieving professional growth. The hospital’s nursing education department saw a need for it at all levels. Formal mentoring was the answer.

Karen W. Ulmer Are you looking for new ways to improve the health of your work environment? Do you desire guidance on how to achieve your professional goals? Could the culture in your organization use a boost? We are clinical nurse education specialists, and we’d like to tell you how we achieved all of the above and more by developing and implementing a formal nursing mentorship program.

Our hospital-wide initiative has engaged nurses at all levels in both inpatient and ambulatory settings and continues to positively impact our organization’s culture. Ninety percent of the program’s participants have completed the goals they established upon entering the program, and the hospital has experienced increased nurse retention and decreased nurse turnover.

Heidi J. BerisIt all began when clinical nurses requested support in achieving professional growth. Then new-to-practice nurses who were nearing the end of their one-year nurse residency programs began asking: “What’s next? Now that I’m comfortable in my first role as a nurse, how do I grow in this profession?”

Simultaneously, the nursing education department called attention to the hospital’s need to more formally enhance the professional development of nurses at all levels. Finally, the approaching Magnet redesignation for our hospital accelerated leadership buy-in and prompted us to act. The stars were aligning, so we embarked on our pioneer mission of creating a grassroots mentoring program that would meet the needs of our nurses and our organization.

The stage was set for program development. Aware of the many benefits of mentoring—including nurse retention, increased job satisfaction, nurse engagement, and succession planning—we set out to gather input from nurses throughout the hospital, from bedside to boardroom.

The program was designed with certain requisites. To be acceptable, it had to be cost-effective and sustainable. It needed to leverage technology to increase accessibility. For formality and tracking, structure was required. The new Magnet standards had to be incorporated. The program needed to promote the six healthy work environment standards established by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Those standards are skilled communication, true collaboration, effective decision-making, appropriate staffing, meaningful recognition, and authentic leadership. Using all of these elements, the program was developed over a period of 13 months and was successfully implemented.

The program has produced many success stories. Our third cohort is going strong. Clinical nurses, one of the largest groups to benefit from mentoring, are matched with nurses in leadership positions, which has yielded numerous benefits. For example, the program’s earliest goal was achieved when a clinical nurse on a medical-surgical unit, mentored by a critical-care nurse manager, became a nurse manager on a procedural unit.

In another case, the hospital’s chief nursing officer mentored a clinical nurse. The match itself was noteworthy, but the relationship resulted in numerous triumphs for the mentee, ranging from advancing on the clinical ladder to earning a seat on the Pennsylvania Association of PeriAnesthesia Nurses board of directors.

Involvement in this mentoring program catalyzed several accomplishments for nurse leaders as well. Under the mentorship of a clinical director, a nurse manager sought to enhance her project management skills. She met her goal by designing and disseminating a toolkit for novice nurse managers transitioning into their new roles. A clinical nurse education specialist mentored a new nurse manager on how to utilize technology to expand her leadership potential. The manager now uses her newly acquired skills to communicate with staff members. In these and other examples, mentees revel in their professional achievements, staff members are more engaged as they invest in each other, and the organization gains a culture of collaboration and cost-effective leadership development. These achievements have promoted a healthier work environment.

All of this was accomplished in an urban, academic, Magnet-recognized hospital. Because of the program’s success, we were invited to share with leaders across the entire health system (six hospitals) about the program’s development and outcomes. The audience, eager to learn more, asked questions about its implementation.

Of all the positive outcomes and metrics our program has achieved, we are proudest of the fact that it all began with clinical nurses.  Imagine nurses realizing their potential, improving outcomes, and forming relationships with long-lasting impact. Whether you are a student nurse preparing to enter the profession, a seasoned nurse seeking new inspiration, or a nurse leader searching for creative ways to improve your organization’s culture, mentoring is a tool within your reach.

If your institution doesn’t offer a formal nurse mentorship program, be bold enough to design a program to fill that gap in your unit, department, or organization. What might your journey look like? RNL

Karen W. Ulmer, MSN, RN, RNC-OB, RN-BC, and Heidi J. Beris, MSN, RN, CPN, RN-BC, are clinical nurse education specialists at Pennsylvania Hospital. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, the hospital is one of six in the Penn Medicine system.

Editor’s note:
Karen Ulmer and Heidi Beris will present Build and Sustain a Hospital-Wide Nursing Mentorship Program Using the Healthy Work Environment Standards on Saturday, 23 February 2019, at Sigma’s Creating Healthy Work Environments conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

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