Nurse Mentors: We Rise by Lifting Others
Toby Bressler, PhD, RN, OCN
Toby is currently the director of nursing for Oncology and Clinical Quality for the Mount Sinai Health System and is an associate professor, Medical Oncology, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. In addition to her clinical service, Toby has held leadership positions in national and local nursing and palliative care associations; has authored articles and book chapters; and has presented locally and nationally on a variety of topics related to oncology, nursing leadership, and public policy regarding health disparities. Toby’s research interests include health promotion in faith-based minorities, care of patients with cancer, and the promotion of palliative care and quality of life of patients and families. Her work has been funded by professional and private foundations.
As nurses, we need to step up as mentors and help newer nurses achieve their goals.
When I was a new nurse, I met a clinical nurse specialist and we served together on a hospital committee. After one of the meetings, she asked if I would be open to her mentoring me. We arranged to meet for coffee after work.
As we sat in the crowded and noisy café, I asked her, “Why are you doing this for me?” Her answer was kind and firm, and she said, “That’s what we do for one another, and one day you will do this for someone else.”
Fast forward years later: I was sitting in the same café, but this time I sat across from a new nurse and asked her if she would be open to me being her mentor. She looked at me with a hint of surprise and uncertainty and asked me the same question I had asked more than a dozen years before. I looked at her and told her what my mentor had told me: Mentoring is what we do for one another, and one day, she would do this for someone else.
Robert Ingersoll, a 19th century lawyer and orator once said, “We rise by lifting others.” This has been a core value of nursing since the time of Florence Nightingale, who wrote letters across the ocean to her nursing mentees, inspiring and encouraging them to lead with purpose. This passion for mentorship through professional development—inspiring a spirit of inquiry and kindness and enjoying the success of others—still holds true today. As nurses, we need to take great pride in working with mentees and encouraging them to achieve their goals.
Mentoring Will Ultimately Improve Care Delivery
Mentoring often begins with professional development and inspiring a spirit of inquiry. Patient safety, experience improvement, and quality outcomes will remain a public, payer, and regulatory focus. Driving work flow process and care delivery system changes that are demanded by the increasingly informed public—as per the American Organization of Nurse Executives’ Guiding Principles for Future Patient Care Delivery—will continue to be priorities. This is most true in the oncology setting where the Oncology Care Model (OCM) and the patient and family experience are largely dependent on nursing core measures. These healthcare delivery changes will necessitate engaged and inquisitive nurses in all areas of practice to mentor others in order to lead, implement, and sustain change.
An act of kindness can trigger a never-ending cycle of people giving back and paying it forward. Several outcomes are likely to occur:
- Giving back feeds a sense of self-worth, and many people report a significant boost in their sense of happiness.
- Giving back helps to strengthen communities and increase connection with those around you.
- People who experience an act of kindness firsthand are often inspired to do the same by paying it forward to others.
An ideal mentoring model encourages mentors to inspire mentees with kindness and enthusiasm. They should use gentle urging to help mentees build up their skills, as opposed to a firm hand and urgency of the task or assignment. Paying mentorship forward is threaded in the tapestry of our daily work. Be ready for any mentoring situation!
Take the time to meet with mentees regularly in a formal or informal setting. Create and sustain an unfolding pattern of mentorship using encouragement, diligence, and most importantly, presence. Guide in a graceful, nonintrusive way while imparting discerning insights. Allow new nurses to express the unsureness they feel in new experiences and recognize their successes. Being present for a new nurse’s initial experiences can make these experiences transformative for both the mentor and the mentee. Our collective goal as oncology nurses should be to continue to pay that forward.
A crucial component of mentorship is helping others to be successful and celebrating their accomplishments with them. The role of nurses in oncology patient care delivery systems continues to require a multidisciplinary approach involved in the process and outcome models. Active mentorship of the next generation is integral to build and sustain a community of nursing scholarship and practice. We must encourage future nurses to be their best selves. Nursing literature has identified a need to improve leadership pathways and create robust succession plans. This will help the field retain top talent.
Making and Keeping Connections
Staying connected to those you mentor gives greater purpose to our profession. Mentoring can make all the difference in someone’s personal or professional life. It is through the work of others that a much greater purpose is achieved to improve the lives of the patients and communities we serve.
My success was a result of standing on the shoulders of those who helped me at critical stages in my career. We are inheritors of the activities of people who have preceded us and who have devoted themselves to the art and science of nursing through mentorship. If we all take on the role as a mentor, the possibilities are endless to promote positive change. As a result, I choose every day to give back to others through mentorship.
There’s an ancient proverb that says, “When embarking on a journey, never ask directions from someone who has never left home.” Effective mentoring means connecting with someone who has “left home,” someone who needs help along the path you have once traveled, and who will share with you experiences of their own.
Let’s mentor one another on this journey together.