Be a Mentor for New Oncology Nurses

Oncology Nursing NewsOctober 2017
Volume 12
Issue 8

Seasoned nurses know the ins and outs of the job, therefore they can be the best resource for those who are just beginning their career.

Prior to accessing an implanted port or administering a patient’s first dose of chemotherapy, every oncology nurse should consult a trusted evidence-based resource to ensure that an intervention or skill is being carried out according to the standard of care. However, after a nurse spends a certain amount of time on the job, the pieces start to click into place, repeatedly performed tasks become old hat, and that quick resource review might fall by the wayside.

Now, think back to when you were a new nurse or just beginning your career in oncology nursing. Everything was overwhelming, and you spent each shift trying to learn the routine of a busy inpatient unit, infusion center, or clinic. Hopefully, you had a preceptor who taught you to slow down long enough to review resources before rushing into an unfamiliar task. However, many new nurses report that a skill is often taught by demonstration alone, with little or no consultation of a current evidence-based resource.

This situation and countless others are a reality in oncology practice settings where new RNs are making the transition into practice. How can we seasoned oncology nurses shift the paradigm of the way we mentor new nurses? From encouraging evidence-based practice to promoting self-care, there are a multitude of ways to support the newest generation of oncology nurses.


Realistically, oncology practice settings don’t allow a lot of time for formal on-the-job education. But that doesn’t mean learning can’t happen in other ways.

If you consult a reference text or electronic resource before administering a new medication, a new nurse will follow your example and adopt the same practice.

New nurses will observe how you interact with oncologists and ancillary healthcare providers—how positive or negative— and that can influence the way they develop their own communication skills.

Your low-acuity patient assignment lends the perfect opportunity to demonstrate effective teamwork and collaboration by offering to help a colleague who has a busy, high-acuity patient assignment. The new oncology nurse will know he or she can count on your support and will reciprocate during your high-stress shifts.


It’s difficult to recognize our own burnout signals (compassion fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, anger, etc), but it’s in our nature as oncology nurses to pick up on distress signals from our patients. Why not extend that radar to include the new nurses in your practice? Information overload, adjusting to shift work, and the transition from student to nurse can quickly take a toll on novice RNs.

While you may not have developed a close relationship with the new nurse(s) yet, reaching out to provide encouragement and support will help them feel included and valued as part of the team. Whether it means a cup of coffee, a quick hug, or a lunchtime chat, go the extra mile to show that you remember what it was like to be in their shoes.


As nurses, we recognize that our profession calls us to be lifelong learners. There’s always new information to learn about the latest treatments and standards, but basic knowledge from childhood can sometimes make the biggest impact when it comes to mentoring new nurses. It’s time to dust off the adage from your preschool and kindergarten days: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

It can take several months to a year before a novice oncology nurse feels confident in his or her ability to practice independently. That time of transition and learning is decidedly uncomfortable and isn’t made any easier by the incivility of experienced nurses.

Before you heave an exaggerated sigh at a frenzied request for help from a new nurse or roll your eyes when asked a seemingly simple question, think back to when you were a novice. Recall your memories of those nurses who patiently mentored you until you could stand on your own.

Now, take a deep breath…and pass them on.

Melissa Grier, MSN, APRN, ACNS-BC Melissa Grier is a clinical nurse specialist at Via Christi Health in Wichita, Kansas, where she supports the Via Christi Cancer Institute, as well as the medical/surgical cardiac, resource pool, emergency department, and oncology service line.

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