How to mentor nursing students

Updated April 17, 2017

Nurse-mentoring programs match experienced nurses with new nurses or nursing students to help them prepare for the demands of the job. Nursing is stressful, in part because nurse shortages in many hospitals have added greatly to practitioners' workloads, the Sunbelt Staffing web site explains. Mentoring can also help offset the reduced amount of clinical experience nursing students who are in accelerated training programs receive before assuming their new roles, says an article in the November 2004 American Journal of Critical Care.

Spend quality time with your mentee. Nursing students and new nurses described their impressions of their mentors in a December 2000 Journal of Advanced Nursing article. Mentors who were viewed as most effective were those who were regularly available for consultation, and the quality of the interaction was viewed as more important than the amount of time spent during each encounter. Successful mentors play the roles of "supporter, guide, assessor and supervisor," the article said. Try to schedule appointments with them when you're not extremely busy to make sure you're not rushed and can focus exclusively on the person you're guiding and try to answer--and seek answers--to their questions quickly. Mentees are less likely to ask for help if they feel they're burdening someone who already has too much on his plate.

Work with student/new nurses as directly as possible. The most effective mentors directly monitor and work alongside their mentees, as logistics permit, noting their performance and discussing it, often in an informal setting, away from the floor or the workplace, to make the mentee comfortable. When that's not possible, frequent communication by telephone or e-mail to track the mentee's progress and perceptions about their roles and workplaces is important. They also involve mentees in activities and focus on transitioning the mentee from the initial role of observer to participant. The ultimate goal is to reduce supervision as the student or new practitioner gains experience, confidence and proficiency.

Decide ahead of time specifically what your role as a mentor will be. Some mentors are willing to give clinical information--to teach procedures and other aspects of nursing medicine. Others view their roles more as general advisers and supporters rather than as instructors. Mentees need to know exactly what type of guidance they should expect to receive through this relationship, according to Jeannette Bushnell of the University of Alaska Anchorage's Recruitment and Retention of Alaska Natives into Nursing Program.

Stimulate mentees; encourage independent thought and exploration. Mentors don't coddle but challenge mentees, while sharing the memories and lessons they learnt throughout their careers. They don't lecture or provide all the answers but ask as many questions as they answer. Role-playing is an excellent way to challenge mentees and give them a feel for what a typical day in the working life is like.

Show your mentee how to network with fellow staffers. The most effective mentors are well-regarded and interact easily with all of those they work with in the hospital or other settings; other nurses, physicians, even hospital administrators if appropriate. This will help them to develop the confidence to seek guidance from and collaborate with others in providing patient care.


New or student nurses who have communication challenges or come from different cultures are more likely to learn from and feel comfortable interacting with mentors whose backgrounds match theirs as closely as possible, an article in the Spring 2002 issue of Minority Nurse journal explains. Expect the mentee to need less guidance and interaction as she becomes more experienced and comfortable in the profession, the Journal of Advanced Nursing article said. This source also advised mentors to give their protegees chances to work alongside other staffers to learn different techniques and perspectives.


Don't make the mistake of offering too much advice or assistance. The best form of learning is through individual trial and error. Mentees should be given perspective and guidance but encouraged to draw their own conclusions. Learning often involves struggle, and mentors who provide too much help, advice, direction and guidance are guilty of overkill. In their zest to be helpful, these mentors do not allow protégés to struggle through problems and even experience failure, the February 13, 2009 Journal of Advanced Nursing Practice said. This source also advises mentors not to be negative or critical to mentees, which can damage their self esteem.

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About the Author

Barbara Bryant has been writing professionally for 25 years. She has contributed to "The Military Engineer" and ASCE's "Civil Engineering" magazines as well as many other publications. Through newsletters and blogs, Bryant specializes in health and fitness topics, drawing on expertise from personal trainers and a naturopathic doctor.