A Few Thoughts on Mentoring
Christine R. Kovach, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and editor of Research in Gerontological Nursing.
Human Capital Blog: Why is mentoring in nursing important?
Christine Kovach: There is ample evidence (see, for example, the Institute Of Medicine’s Future of Nursing report) that there is a pressing need to continue building our discipline’s capacity to conduct research that advances science, addresses urgent health problems, and informs public policy. Nursing’s perspectives on improving individual and aggregate health are more holistic, contextual and participative than many other disciplines’ perspectives. These deeply embedded values make our contributions especially valuable and also create the need to often use sophisticated research methods in real clinical situations that have ecological validity.
As the quality, complexity, and contributions of our science continue to grow, the need for intensive, committed mentoring relationships has grown too. Mentoring is an important and pleasurable role for senior academicians and scientists. It is gratifying to see the work of young scholars unfold and develop. It is also rewarding to help mentees develop confidence and clarity as they move forward with their innovations. Mentoring is often perceived as a benefit to the mentee, but I can attest that mentors also benefit from the relationship.
HCB: What are the ideal attributes in a mentee?
Kovach: One of my current mentees, Jennifer Doering, RN, PhD, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar, is a great example of the kind of mentee all mentors hope to have. She has confidence and is committed to a program of research; knows and asks for what she needs; listens well and questions critically; is intelligent and highly motivated; has clarity in her career focus and her destination outcome; and is open to differing perspectives and to adjusting her thinking and line of inquiry.
HCB: What can a mentee do to make the mentor/mentee relationship successful?
Kovach: From my experience as a mentor to some 40 mentees, I have also learned the qualities that make for an ideal mentor. In this role, I aspire to have the ability to:
• Find the strengths in mentees and in their ideas and use those strengths as a platform for building innovation and methodological sophistication into their work;
• Develop relationships with mentees that are open, supportive, and respectful, and that acknowledge the hard work the scholars are doing;
• Provide feedback that is specific, thoughtful, and constructive, but not dictatorial;
• Refrain from micromanaging mentees’ time, programs of research, and other professional decisions;
• Foster constructive, positive work environments and refrain from petty office politics;
• Help mentees see and explore multiple possibilities for expanding the boundaries and trajectories of their work;
• Provide critical feedback while communicating enthusiasm about the potential of the mentees’ work to be successful and make a significant contribution to health and health care;
• Provide non-receptive mentees with feedback and additional means for having their work critiqued;
• Provide resources and opportunities that will foster professional development, new networking, and the desire among mentees to develop expertise and accomplishment in specific areas.