Helping new grads adjust to the nursing world

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A Washington hospital establishes a successful mentoring program

by Danielle Jackson, PhD, and Peggy Soper, RN, MSN

Remember your first day on the job as a new nurse? The eagerness you exhibited as you apprehensively approached your first patient? The excitement you felt as you began working in your chosen career? Was there someone there to guide you through the apprehension you experienced? Someone you could approach for direction or guidance or to help you manage your first difficult patient load?

Today’s nurses enter an acute care environment with rigid and complex processes, highly acute patients, and increasingly sophisticated medical equipment. Imagine entering today’s hospital environment without any supportive guidance as you face the complexity of today’s patient mix for the first time.

These demands on nurses frequently get in the way of providing quality patient care. Additionally, these demands frustrate novice nurses, leading to career dissonance, dissatisfaction, and role stress. But mentors can help new nurses create their own balance.

Mentors: Why the need?

New members of any organization seek information to better assimilate into the unit, advance operational knowledge and skills, and increase organizational standing. Research conducted for Danielle Jackson’s doctoral dissertation demonstrated two findings:

1. Younger, novice employees will seek out information covertly rather than overtly

2. Trait and/or state anxiety will diminish a new employee’s critical thinking capacity

For these reasons, a structured mentoring/coaching relationship is crucial: it enhances the employee’s ability to discover new organizational or task-related knowledge, increases success and longevity, improves quality patient care, and enhances employee satisfaction.

Research for Jackson’s dissertation concluded that socialized nurses, or those who have had mentor support, experience greater job satisfaction than those who did not receive mentoring. Her findings revealed that 83% of the nurses who were mentored were satisfied with their job despite facing the same challenges and frustrations as other nurses. However, only 12% of nonmentored nurses claimed to be satisfied in their position. Jackson’s research also correlated mentor support with reduced role stress and reduced intent to leave the organization.

Launching a program: One hospital’s journey

The Providence St. Peter Hospital Nursing Practice Council in Olympia, WA, launched a successful new formal mentoring program in 2007 and is now in the process of planning a formal residency course.

First, the nursing practice council defined what the hospital wanted from a mentoring program, which included supporting key behavioral values central to the organization. The end goal of mentoring at Providence St. Peter is to increase job satisfaction, reduce turnover for the organization, and “pay it forward” to the upcoming younger professional nurse generation.

Mentors act in a leadership capacity and are expected to convey established operational procedures and coach new employees. For that reason, mentors should be selected based on their ability to coach and motivate, act as change agents, and demonstrate good organizational citizenship.

The unit directors at Providence St. Peter are responsible for identifying staff nurse mentors, and a packet of information is offered to interested nurses. With the understanding that mentoring is different than shorter-term precepting, the unit educator offers to act as a matchmaker at the first meeting.

The hospital’s new resident nurses are informed of the mentoring program by the unit educators. After sharing the expectations and criteria for the program with the new nurses, the educators discuss central topics with them, including guiding criteria for first meeting conversations, communication tools, and possible relationship goals.

Building mentoring relationships at your facility

Without any structured process, many mentor/mentee relationships are organic, meaning that they form without any specified procedure. However, there are dangers in allowing mentoring relationships to form in a vacuum. Mentoring works best when operating as an established program rather than an organic process.

Mentors must be able to motivate new employees and role model effective practices and behaviors. There is nothing worse than realizing you have provided someone with the privilege of mentoring only to learn later that the relationship was damaging. With that in mind, mentors must be selected based on their desire for growth and development.


Jackson, D. (2007). “Perspectives on socialization: An exploration of nursing career satisfaction.” Doctoral dissertation: UMI Dissertation Publishing.