The dictionary defines mentoring as: “To serve as a trusted counselor or teacher, especially in occupational settings”. Most of us can name one if not several people who have helped us become the nurses we are today. Those who have influenced us may have worked with us directly, or simply been a model we wanted to emulate. But, mentoring is more than guidance- when given willingly and routinely it can define how we see our self-worth. Oft times, the way nursing treats it’s young lacks professionalism and makes all the difference in how the business world compensates our line of work.
We all started out being the new kid on the block. If a cheerleading section greeted us—look out world. But if we were met by a firing squad, it could set us back so far it might take years to move forward again. When I was a brand new nurse, I felt an air of meanness from those with seniority; it reeked of cruelty, as though someone forgot to separate the freshly hatched guppies from the tank. I didn’t realize until much later how deeply that affected the way I felt unworthy and, even worse, how indifferent the public seemed to the services we provide.
Nursing remains a female dominated career. Of the three million RNs in the U.S. less than six percent are men ( http://www.minoritynurse.com/minority-nursing-statistics ). We are programmed to accept our lot because, as women, we believe that assertiveness is unladylike. That same socialization creates an image in the public eye of nurses as subservient and self-sacrificing angels, the martyrs of care. After a long day of saving lives we submit to demeaning ourselves by saying, “I’m just a nurse.” Well, I don’t know about you, but for me, I’m tired of being invisible in order to support this mythological ideal of the self-sacrificing nurse. Nurses, like firemen and police, are heroes; not handmaidens, so please respect my courage, and expertise accordingly.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (http://www.harrisheery.com/mentoring.html) stated that women fall far below men when it comes to mentoring programs to help them succeed. It’s no surprise then that a woman’s salary is still far less than a man’s. In male-dominated careers men are taught from the start that they are part of a team and their skills are worthy of recognition and compensation.
Students and novices will attest that nurses are taught to work 12 hour shifts without proper meal and rest breaks. Veteran nurses resent being assigned to new hires because it doubles their workload and stress. This takes a toll as world-wide attrition rates reach18-25% for new grads indicating that retaining nurses is a global issue and that maintaining job satisfaction requires a lot more mentoring than is currently being offered.
That being said, it seems that mentoring programs for new grads as well as teaching experienced nurses how to be supportive ought to be mandatory. It’s much easier to stick around when the elders of a group form a protective circle around the youngest, and take them under their wings. Such an act sends a message that not only do we protect our own, but that nurses are precious and valuable members of healthcare.