Mentoring New Nurses: This Is Our Job
We have a lot of new nurses on my shift. Some are new grads, some are just new to the department, and some are just new to this area of nursing. Either way, they’re new somehow, and a seemingly endless succession of them keeps quitting, thus ensuring we always have a lot of new nurses around.
Those of us who have stayed around complain bitterly about this. “Whine. Whine. I’m tired of spending all this time training nurses who leave as soon as they can. Whine. I’m tired of working with nurses who are still wet behind the ears. Whine.” It occurred to me last week: it is not shocking that they leave, with us acting this way. We aren’t mean to them. It hasn’t been, necessarily, a case of nurses eating their young. I can speak only for myself (but suspect this applies to others): I have simply been so busy trying to train new nurses, cover for their lack of experience, and still take care of sick people that “mentor the new people” fell off my radar as the lowest priority. This struck me as we face a departmental crisis: it isn’t a low priority. Teamwork and departmental cohesiveness directly affect patient care, and as such it is the job of every nurse to bump up “mentor the new people” on our radar.
I know our radar is crowded. I know it feels like “it’s not my job.” I know nurses need to have thick skin and step up to the plate despite a lack of hand-holding. I know all that. But if I dig deeply to my days as a new nurse, which were not long-enough ago that I should have trouble accessing them, I remember the stark terror I felt when I stepped into a new environment, a new group of people, and a new career role (all at once). No one was mean to me, meaning I was never sabotaged, but I remember how very far a kind word of encouragement could take me. No one ever held my hand, exactly, either, but several times experienced nurses did take extra time out of sheer kindness to teach me things or help me with them the first few times because they could see I was scared.
I took about 10 minutes to help one of our new staff members access a port last week. Could she have done it herself? Probably. Did I have any reason to offer to help her? Not especially. I just saw her hesitating and offered. Later she said, “Thank you so much for that. It made my day in a lot of ways.” I don’t know why, but I’m guessing it’s because new employees need a “win” now and then to keep going. They need an “I did it!” feeling, an internal fist pump that tells them “I can totally do this job.”
That experience shamed me. Ten minutes is all it took to make a colleague’s day. How many shifts do I spend 10 minutes zoning out while I wait for coffee to brew or read e-mails that could absolutely wait? And how very little time does it take just to say to a new coworker, “You know, I think you’re doing a super job, and I’m happy to have you working next to me”?
I just haven’t done it, but I’m going to start. I started last week. We all need to start. Nurses have to pull together, and the earlier we start the better the results will be.
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