One of the most overlooked parts of training and development in a long-term care setting is mentorship in nursing. A good mentor can provide support, guidance, and advice to new nurses, helping them to learn and grow in their roles. This, in turn, can lead to improved resident care and a more cohesive healthcare team.
However, not all mentors are created equal. Some may be better suited than others to guide and support new nurses. Thus, it’s important for nurses in long-term care facilities to be selective when choosing a mentor and to make sure they form a positive working relationship with their nurse mentors.
Practical training is an essential part of mentorship in nursing, as it gives new nurses a realistic idea of what is expected of them. Also, new nurses will find that they will have to deal with a wide range of emotions while on the job. These include their feelings, those of their residents, and those of all the team members with whom they interact.
Through proper mentorship in nursing, new nurses can learn from more experienced nurses how to navigate various workplace challenges. However, one should note that mentors don’t have to be limited to those in the same role as the protégé.
Even a facility administrator can act as a mentor by setting aside time, giving the nurse tips on leadership, and assuming responsibility. The DON can arrange monthly “power” breakfast meetings with training videos or PowerPoint presentations. Then, as the new nurse reviews the material, the DON can supplement it with further guidance on what they expect from the nurse.
In short, anyone with experience as a leader can be a mentor, and new nurses can benefit from the knowledge and perspective of such an individual. Ultimately, though, one must maintain a strong rapport with leaders and other experienced individuals in their facility, even if one does not designate them as their nurse mentor.
The Role of Nurse Empowerment in Long-Term Care
Part of being a mentor is helping protégés find their identities and voices as leaders. That requires them to be given enough freedom to do so, which occurs through nurse empowerment. By making it clear to nurses that they are trusted and that leadership will support their decision-making, nurses will naturally feel more empowered. This helps facilitate mentorship in nursing and allows new nurses to better transition into a healthcare facility.
Some practical ways to empower nurses include:
- Developing an effective leadership and management style: This affects nurse performance, job satisfaction, and the quality of care given to patients. Leaders who can ensure efficiency and proficiency while acting as mentors often yield the best results from their team. Some common leadership styles include:
- Autocratic—Autocratic leaders often have a hands-on approach. They are quick thinkers and are great at delegating tasks and giving directions. However, this leadership style is sometimes associated with negative reinforcement because these leaders are less effective at team building, developing trust, or open communication.
- Laissez-faire—On the opposite end of the spectrum are laissez-faire leaders who offer minimum supervision and take a “hands-off” approach. While they promote creativity and ingenuity, they typically do not provide guidance or direction. This can be inappropriate for new and inexperienced nurses who require more attention.
- Democratic—Democratic leaders encourage feedback, involvement, and communication from team members. They have a collaborative style that encourages personal and professional growth while focusing on building a strong team dynamic.
- Transformational—Transformational nurse leaders are visionaries who build engaged teams while listening to the ideas and concerns of others. They effectively mentor, instill trust, build confidence, and encourage teamwork while encouraging nurses to act independently.
- Servant—Servant leaders are relationship-oriented and focused on individuals’ needs. They ensure employees have the necessary skills, tools, and resources to achieve their goals while being highly involved in employee development.
- Situational—Situational leaders have a highly flexible leadership style based on the facility or individual nurse’s needs. These nurse leaders analyze the situation before determining an appropriate approach.
- Transactional—Transactional leaders use a reward and punishment system by focusing on supervision, organization, and performance. They value efficiency over team morale, ensuring the facility’s goals are met.
- Providing leadership development opportunities: This allows protégés to better understand how to communicate, relate, and interact with others on their team. Rather than focusing on nurses’ academic achievements, leadership development prioritizes team building, effective communication, applying emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and developing strategies to improve personal traits, such as empathy, listening, and innovation.
- Involving nurses in decision-making: A lack of recognition, support, or appreciation often leads to high nurse turnover, lower productivity, and adverse resident outcomes. Therefore, giving nurses a voice in important decisions gives them a sense of inclusion, acknowledgment, and empowerment, resulting in better care for long-term care residents.
- Offering constructive feedback: When nurses receive feedback, they feel more appreciated, less anxious, and more motivated while also developing confidence in their roles and responsibilities. Thus, it is vital for management to regularly engage and connect with their nurses to provide them with the necessary tools to improve and remain productive and engaged.
- Providing up-to-date information on best practices and current research: Because the long-term care industry is heavily regulated, it can be challenging for nurses to keep up with the latest rule changes. Therefore, management should provide helpful resources that put the latest information at nurses’ fingertips. Doing so empowers nurses by giving them a more substantial knowledge base about the industry, resulting in better care outcomes for nursing home residents.
- Ensuring management is visible and accessible—Should a problem occur, nurses need to know that they can turn to the facility’s leadership and receive help when needed. Thus, management can make weekly or daily rounds and embrace an open-door policy, encouraging nurses to speak with them when issues arise.
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6 Benefits of a Nursing Mentorship
For most new nurses, finding their footing and voice can take several years. They should be nurtured and encouraged to grow and make mistakes during that nursing mentorship period. It is only through trial and error—and a sincere work ethic—that they will, eventually, become influential leaders.
In this section, we will be listing some of the benefits of mentorship in nursing and why long-term care leaders should consider implementing a mentoring program in their facilities.
1. Open and clear communication
A new nurse needs to understand that, should seemingly-unresolvable problems arise, nursing home management is available for help and guidance. Such constant lines of communication reassure nurses and prevent them from stepping outside of facility protocol out of desperation. This can only be achieved through effective mentorship in nursing.
It is always beneficial for management to be kept in the loop regarding what is happening on the floor. Hence, when a nurse has an issue with their colleague, they should let their supervisor or manager know about the disagreement.
Also, effective mentorship in nursing homes will enable new nurses to quickly get up to speed with the facility’s senior care software, which is used for all communication of residents’ conditions and progress.
It is common for new nurses to initially lack confidence in their roles, especially if the facility has older CNAs with far more experience. To help new nurses settle into their new roles, leaders must use nurse empowerment and carefully listen to their challenges, providing emotional support, and giving nurses pointers for de-escalating the situation.
Example: When dealing with negative behavior or attitudes, leaders can tell a nurse to look for consistent trends in how CNA assignments are divided. This is because a leader will know that, often, the true source of CNA complaints is the perception that tasks were divided unfairly among them.
The leader will then provide practical solutions. For example, they can mention that the first step would be to understand the different perspectives of the CNAs and why they feel like they have been treated unfairly. After a nurse gets the CNAs’ views, they can follow up by setting clear expectations for the CNA, their role, and how their feelings of dissatisfaction could be resolved.
Another example of the importance of empowerment in nursing can be given around the topic of problem-solving. Suppose leaders observe inappropriate behavior from the nurse, such as being subjective or speaking to a CNA with a disrespectful tone. In that case, they would communicate this to the nurse who, should they have received the correct mentorship in nursing etiquette, will self-assess and correct the behavior.
3. Clear expectations
A significant part of mentorship in nursing is learning to hold team members accountable for their actions. New nurses will benefit greatly from speaking with their mentors and management, who will set clear expectations of what is needed on their floor.
While a nurse needs to understand a CNA’s perspective and have a certain amount of empathy, it is equally important to communicate these expectations to the CNA to avoid a repeat situation. The nurse may feel lost if the situation occurs again with no visible signs of improvement. At that point, they can seek additional help by turning to leadership to find an alternative solution.
Example #1: A nurse is holding a meeting with a CNA who has received a complaint for inappropriate behavior. The administrator is present as well. The nurse conveys that they received a complaint from another staff member claiming that the CNA behaved inappropriately on the floor. The nurse then says:
“Do you agree with the assessment of your coworker? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Can you please describe what happened?”
The CNA, though, refuses to participate and instead chooses to sit there silently. During the conversation, the administrator may mention that the nurse can better communicate the message of discipline. They can then offer support and guidance on approaching the next steps and resolving the issue.
The administrator will share their observations and ask the nurse: “Why do you think the CNA was unresponsive?” After receiving the nurse’s response, the administrator may add:
“I thought your tone was somewhat personal, lacking in empathy, and unprofessional. That may be why you didn’t receive an answer. How might you rephrase the question to get a better response?”
The administrator may then mentor the nurse on how to better understand the CNA’s perspective, set clearer expectations, and explain why it’s crucial for them to follow facility procedures. At this time, the leader can also share tools and resources for addressing CNAs in disciplinary meetings and seeing things from another viewpoint.
In addition to consultation and mentorship, leadership can also provide nurses with tools that will help them improve their leadership skills, such as:
- ANA Leadership Insitute: Competency Model Framework—The ANA (American Nursing Association) offers different nursing resources to refine leadership skills. A free resource like the Competency Model Framework gives nurse leaders an overview of what they can do to enhance their leadership qualities and abilities while positively impacting a facility and its residents.
- Relias: Transformational Leadership—This insightful white paper was developed to help nurse leaders face daily challenges on the floor. It explores nursing leadership skills and strategies and explores different nursing leadership styles. It also teaches readers how to meet high expectations, adopt appropriate behaviors and qualities, and lead high-functioning teams to provide better patient care.
A large part of mentorship in nursing is learning how to hold oneself and others (CNAs, aides, or other nurses) accountable for their actions with an official write-up report for inappropriate behavior and misconduct. While this is standard procedure, it can cause feelings of discomfort, especially for those with more clinical training than leadership training, like LPNs. Unfortunately, a lack of real-life experience in leadership roles translates to entry-level nurses often looking to avoid conflict.
Dealing with conflict does not come naturally to most. And writing up colleagues who are also friends is particularly difficult. In some scenarios, a newly qualified nurse may need to write up an aide or CNA who is significantly older and has more experience working on the floor. The age gap alone can cause uncomfortable feelings for the nurse, even if they know that they are in the right.
This is where a mentor can play a role. The mentor can remind the nurse that protocol is protocol, and some CNAs may have more experience, but that does not make them right. Mentorship in nursing can help one understand that great experience on the floor sometimes produces deeply-ingrained bad habits that must be undone. By escalating the problem, the nurse can receive guidance and counsel on how to proceed with the next steps. More importantly, though, they will receive support and be reassured that they have someone they can turn to in such situations.
5. Cultivation of leadership skills
Many individuals naturally possess leadership qualities before they are thrust into such roles. They may learn specific leadership skills from their parents, teachers, or coaches. For example, a former team captain already has a sense of inspiring others to strive for greatness. In addition, they will likely have developed listening and communication skills and a work ethic that boosts the morale of others.
Life skills and experiences translate to leadership in general, and this includes those in long-term care. Additionally, those who choose nursing as a second career will have often gained leadership experience in other fields and can apply these skills in nursing to ensure the team runs more smoothly and efficiently.
While those with a nursing education usually have the necessary hard skills for the job, some will need some mentorship to learn the required soft skills. Hard skills refer to a person’s knowledge and occupational skills. These are usually measurable and obtained through formal education, training programs, and a concentrated effort. In nursing, hard skills include the ability to assess and interpret tests and symptoms and an understanding of anatomy and physiology.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are related to the person and personality traits. They determine one’s ability to engage with others and evaluate the situation before determining what words to use. A nurse with refined soft skills will be:
- Able to communicate with coworkers and residents
- Willing to mentor coworkers
- Inclined to lead a team
- Capable of following instructions
- Aware of when to delegate tasks to other team members
- Certain to ensure that each team member completes their tasks in an orderly fashion
While hard skills can be learned and perfected over time, soft skills are more difficult to acquire and change. Still, mentorship in nursing provides nurses with constructive criticism and the opportunity to improve.
6. Support in times of conflict
Mentorship in nursing enables nurses to learn how to deal with conflict and hold people accountable for their actions, especially when their negligence results in insufficient care. Nurses may come to manage CNAs who take too many liberties, like long smoke breaks at inappropriate times.
Nurses in management positions may be tempted to be lenient, but if such habits result in call lights going unanswered, they become an issue. Soon enough, frustration permeates the entire staff, as others will feel they are being overworked by comparison. There is no option but to confront undisciplined team members and, in some cases, write them up. Otherwise, you end up with a lower standard of care and f-tags.
The problem is that conflict management is awkward for many. That is why leaders must be physically present during volatile conflicts to demonstrate their support. A supervisor or manager can further help the floor nurse manage these uncomfortable conflicts by establishing a strong chain of command in the facility. A typical chain of command will follow this order: Administrator — Director of Nursing (DON) — Assistant DON — Nurse Supervisor/ Manager — Charge Nurse — Floor Nurse — CNA.
Keeping this in mind, a new nurse can refer to the DON or ADON first. Then, if the matter still remains unresolved, the nurse can turn to the administrator and request that he or she sits in on the conversation in which the nurse intends to discuss the CNA’s inappropriate behavior. This provides the perfect opportunity for management to guide the new nurse and steer the conversation professionally and appropriately per the facility’s expectations.
It is a good idea for management to lead the conversation during the initial few write-ups and to allow the new floor nurse to observe and learn how to manage the situation objectively. Should a new nurse notice any inappropriate behavior and decide to write up the CNA but not feel they are being supported by management, they will be further dissuaded from writing up problems in the future.
The Importance of Mentorship in Nursing
Mentorship in nursing helps in empowering and supporting nurses while also accelerating their development, ensuring that they are thorough in managing their teams and performing their roles. Eventually, management will see that these nurse leaders have become confident and capable individuals who can handle crises on their own while maintaining a strong rapport with staff, residents, and their families.