May 9 2012
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A Mentor, An Educator, A Shaper of Public Policy - A Nurse

Happy National Nurses Week! The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has a proud history of supporting nurses and nurse leadership, so this week, the RWJF Human Capital Blog will feature posts by nurses, including leaders from some of our nursing programs. Check back each day to see what they have to say. This post is by Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, RN, FAAN, director of the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program and Anna D. Wolf chair and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.

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Nurses are known mostly as caregivers, but we also play important roles as educators, mentors and even in shaping public policy. I believe strongly that one of the most important roles all nurses play is that of the educator and mentor for new nurses. No matter in what setting they work, nurses are involved in educational endeavors. You don’t need to be faculty. In clinical settings, nurses at the bedside are preceptors for students and even those who aren’t formally teaching often work alongside nursing students and are their mentors and role models – keeping a watchful eye over the students as they practice their nursing skills, providing feedback and guidance until they get it right.

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Education and mentoring are a natural extension of the caregiving role we all associate with nursing. Mentoring is how we care for new nurses who are caring for our patients and the public. We mentor in a variety of ways, through coaching, role modeling and facilitating their growth and development so that they become better and more competent nurses. In education, nursing faculty have the privilege of working with individual students who have the same scholarly interests. They also have opportunities to mentor students toward doing research and scholarship, so that those students are helping to generate evidence to show what nursing interventions work best and what’s cost-effective. Evidence that can help to shape policy to improve the health and health care of our country.

I know from personal experience that being a mentor is immensely satisfying. When my mentees achieve their goals, that experience is every bit as exciting to me as when I achieve my own goals. I know that I have helped them aim high and that because of that, they are making a real difference in the lives and health of families, communities and our country.

Part of mentoring is helping students recognize their own potential and the potential of nursing to make a difference in health and health care - and their potential to become more influential over time. Nurses often aren’t aware of the ways they can influence health care or public policy. There is great potential there. In my own life, I have had wonderful opportunities to influence public policy, in part because I have had wonderful mentors like Angela Barron McBride, PhD, RN, FAAN (more about her later), and in part because I have had amazing mentees. My research and policy focus is on violence against women. My mentees have brought great ideas and perspectives to my work that have proven invaluable.

It’s so exciting to be where I am now – mentoring students and helping them become knowledgeable about conducting research and experts in the field of domestic violence. And I have the privilege of bringing their ideas and mine to the public policy arena, through speaking at congressional briefings, and working with policy-makers and people at federal agencies. Through the research I have been able to do and the evidence I and my students and mentees have generated, I’ve been able to get several federal agencies to make a serious commitment to improving our nation’s response to violence against women. In fact, I take great pride in the fact that my research and my advocacy along with many others in nursing and medicine and public health has resulted in the inclusion of a brief screening and counseling for domestic violence in primary care into the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That provision is due to roll out this summer and will make an enormous difference in the lives of countless women and their families.

As the director of the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program, I’ve been able to extend my mentorship even further and also share and further perpetuate my commitment to mentoring in nursing. Every day, I’m working with the junior faculty in the program, and with their mentors, to improve their mentoring skills. It’s exciting in part because their areas of expertise are different than mine and I know that through mentoring these scholars will strengthen their research skills and will make contributions to the science that improves our nation’s health and how we deliver health care. And every day, as I interact with the scholars and with their mentors, I get new ideas for improving both this program and the mentoring portion of it. Having Angela Barron McBride on our National Advisory Committee contributes to that immensely.

Angela was a mentor for me, and she is not only deeply committed to encouraging nurses to mentor, but also an extremely skilled mentor herself. I have learned a great deal from her in the process of running the Nurse Faculty Scholars program and from the book she recently published entitled, “The Growth and Development of Nurse Leaders.” Part of what we teach the Nurse Faculty Scholars is that they should expect to become mentors, too. It’s an important way to give back to the profession of nursing and to their institutions. We encourage them to be mindful as they are mentored, so that they learn what works and can put those “best practices” to work when they become mentors.

Learn more about the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program.

Tags: Nurses, Mentoring, Health policy, Research, Human Capital, National Nurses Week, Nurse Faculty Scholars, Nursing, Voices from the Field, Violence Prevention