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Journal of Nursing

Views of a New Graduate Nurse: The Value of Mentorship

Barbara Robinson [email protected]

Despite the predicted shortage of nurses in the near future, many healthcare systems still lack a supportive and comprehensive mentorship program. I had heard the old adage “nurses eat their young” many times in nursing school, but was still ill-prepared for what I would encounter when I first entered the profession.

I had just graduated from nursing school after obtaining my associate degree in nursing. I was a new graduate and eager to enter the world of nursing, optimistic, energetic, and willing to ask questions and learn new things. I was thrilled to immediately land a job at the local medical center within the cardiac care unit, but also quite nervous about my position in such an area that required such skill and expertise. I had been assured that the orientation program was comprehensive and that I would learn everything that I needed to know, but I was still apprehensive.

My first shift during the orientation program on my assigned unit is one that has had a great impact on me throughout my 15 year nursing career. I was assigned a mentor for that first shift that proved to be not only unsupportive; she ended up being virtually non-existent. After beginning the tasks of reviewing charts and orders and completing the assessments on my own, I had several questions. I search all over the unit for my nurse mentor, but she was nowhere to be found. I decided to ask some of the other nurses my questions, but they seemed irritated by my questions or too busy to acknowledge my obvious distress. Somehow, I made it through my first four hours of the shift and decided to take a lunch break. I had still seen no sign of my mentor. After purchasing my meal in the cafeteria, I was pleased to see a small group of people from my unit eating lunch together. I walked up to the group and asked if I could join them. I was informed that they were “saving the seat for someone else.” I noted some laughter and amongst the group while some shifted uncomfortably in their seats. At first I was so shocked that I didn’t know how to reply. I thought “Is this grade school?” I went to another table nearby and ate alone.

After returning to the unit, things did not get any better. I again asked a nurse if she had seen my mentor and she had replied that I should probably check with Dr. Smith (fictitious name), as she was usually with him. She then gave me a wink, referring to a more intimate than professional relationship. I decided to continue with administering the patient medications and charting assessments. As I began to review the rhythm strips on the patients, one of the LPN’s came running up to me and asked me to follow her into a patient’s room as she did not think that he was doing well. I rushed in after her to find the patient unresponsive and no longer breathing. I immediately called a code and the next couple of hours were a blur. Ironically, my nurse mentor eventually showed up during the code. I immediately asked where she had been and she ignored my question. The resuscitation attempts were not successful and the patient passed. I left work that day and emphatically sobbed in my car. I decided that I was a horrible nurse and hated the profession. I felt like a complete failure.

Thank goodness, I had many other nurses within my family that encouraged me to continue. My family and I moved to another area and I began the next step of my nursing career in a long term care/rehabilitation facility. From the start, I knew things would be different. I found the staff friendly, inviting, and eager to mentor. In no time, I gained confidence in my skills and abilities and quickly moved into leadership positions.

I am now a program manager at a large medical center and back in school working on my bachelor’s degree in nursing. The lessons that I learned that first shift have impacted my own practice. I routinely make a point of introducing myself to any new nurses that I see throughout our facility. I attempt to engage them in conversation and assess how they are feeling. I have also found that mentorship is a key element in any position and have volunteered to mentor many newly hired nurses and program managers within my facility and in several other states. I have learned of the impact that nurses have on each other and the importance of building a strong nursing workforce for the future. Nursing is a difficult and demanding profession and we need to emphasize our care for each other as well as the patient. Creating a supportive and compassionate work environment for “our young” will encourage a strong future for nursing.

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