Finding a Mentor

A view from a mentor and a new grad

Transitions in life can be challenging, especially the move from nursing student to professional nurse. If you are like many new graduates, you may feel unsure about your progress and plans as a new nurse. Indhira Piquion, co-author of this article, felt this way when she graduated from her BSN program. Her solution was to reach out to a mentor, a seasoned nurse, for some advice. Here is her story:

My passion for nursing started at a young age. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do in nursing but, toward the end of the BSN program, I was experiencing mixed emotions. I was excited, fearful, and nervous about my transition as a nurse. I heard stories of new graduates having a hard time transitioning into the field, and I met people who expressed lack of satisfaction. I did not want any form of energy to burden my dream as a successful professional nurse. I thought it was important to find a mentor who will guide me through my journey.

I knew prior to searching for a mentor I needed to work on my communication skills in which I present myself as a professional student. As a student, I attended nursing conferences and met a lot of nurses eager to be my mentor. As I progressed through the nursing program, I continued to communicate and give updates of my school achievements to the potential mentors.

Once I graduated and received my nursing license, I was faced with the difficulty of finding a job as a new graduate. All the doors seemed to be locked and no one had the key. I reached out to the mentors that specifically said “contact me for anything, even when you have trouble searching for a job.”

It was disappointing that the ones who wanted to mentor me stopped responding to my calls for help, except for Dr. Rose Sherman. At first, I did not know what I wanted specifically from a mentor, but it became clear what I needed from a mentor.

Dr. Sherman has the qualities for a perfect mentor. She was the only one responding and reaching out to me. She was right by my side knocking on doors with me. She was committed to helping my transition into the nursing field, as I was committed to making her proud. We shared a mutual trust and respect for each other. It was and continually is easy to talk to her about my career goals and other life events. She has the hammer and chisel to break you out of your protective shell to empower you to accept challenges and make a great impact to the future of nursing.

What Is a Mentor?

As Piquion learned, a mentor can help facilitate a smoother transition into practice. Most new graduates participate in residency programs in their work settings and have designated preceptors. There are distinct differences between a preceptor and a mentor. A preceptor is assigned to a new graduate for a specific length of time with the intent of helping you to develop your clinical skills, and providing orientation/supervision on the unit. In contrast, a mentor can be selected from inside or outside of the work setting, and does not supervise your work. A mentor can help to open doors to new learning opportunities and provide you with a different viewpoint on your professional work environment.1New graduates often feel insecure during their first year in practice. Having a mentor who offers reassurance can help reduce the reality shock. There is also research to support that a mentor can increase job satisfaction for new graduates and reduce turnover.2

Finding a Mentor

An ideal mentor for a new graduate is someone with nursing experience who is a good listener, trustworthy and interested in your professional/personal growth. Finding a mentor can be challenging if your organization does not have a formal mentoring process. Use the following five steps to identify who might be the best mentor for you: 3

[dropcap]1[/dropcap] Ask yourself what you want from the mentoring experience.
Before you approach anyone to mentor you, determine what you want from that mentor. Are you looking for career guidance, professional networking opportunities or help on how to manage challenging situations in the workplace?

Reflect on your own preferences.
It is important to choose a mentor who you will find easy to talk to and has a personality style that complements yours.

[dropcap]3[/dropcap] Decide on what qualities you want in a mentor.An ideal mentor should be someone you admire and feel is a good role model for professional behavior. He or she needs to be a good listener and willing to provide honest feedback.

[dropcap]4[/dropcap]  Consider availability.While you may be tempted to choose a nationally known professional for your mentor, this is not always the best choice for a new graduate. You need to consider availability and geographic proximity. Face to face meetings work best in mentoring relationships. You also need to think about whether you want a mentor from inside or outside of your organization.

[dropcap]5[/dropcap] Make a list of potential mentors.
As a last step, identify potential mentors who match what you are looking for. It could be a nurse you met while you were a student in a clinical setting or at a professional association meeting. It might be a nurse in your own organization who works on a different unit. If you are stumped, ask your leader or nurse peers for suggestions.

Following Through

Once you have identified a potential mentor, initiate a face-to-face meeting. Explain why you have chosen them, present your professional goals, and indicate what type of support you need. Mentoring is a two-way street, so be sure to talk about what you will bring to the mentoring relationship. If your potential mentor says yes, it is your responsibility to follow through on the relationship. It is important to respect your mentor’s time. Set an agenda for each follow-up meeting, and a timeline for goals you establish. When your mentor offers suggestions, follow up on them. Be willing to take on some assignments that demonstrate your commitment to the mentoring experience.

If a mentor turns you down, don’t take it personally. Be sure to say thank you and ask for other suggestions for mentors. Managing an awkward situation will make a good impression. Perhaps that person may become a mentor to you in the future. Remember that, during the course of your career, your needs for mentorship will change, and you will seek out other mentors.

Mentoring is a gift. At some point in your career, it will be your turn to give back by becoming a mentor yourself.


  1. Ensher E, Murphy S. Power Mentoring: How Successful Mentors and Protégés Get the Most Out of Their Relationships. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2005.
  2. Fox CS. Mentor program boosts new nurses’ satisfaction and lowers turnover rate. J of Cont Ed Nurs. 2010; 41(7): 312-316.
  3. Sherman RO, Murphy N. The many merits of mentoring. Amer Nurs Today. 2009; 4(2): 24-25.

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