Mentorship matters. Here's how to do it right.

By José Vasquez, Staff Writer

Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Aug. 22, 2018.

Early-tenure nurses—particularly those under age 35—can be hard to hold onto, but a properly structured mentorship program can reduce nursing turnover and strengthen your workforce, Advisory Board's Marisa Deline told Daily Briefing.

Join tomorrow's webconference: How to restore nurse camaraderie on the unit

Nursing churn

Churn is a growing problem for nurses at all levels of experience: Turnover among bedside RNs trended up from 2009 to 2015, with the overall median rate in 2016 reaching just under 12%, according to Advisory Board's national data.

But the challenge is particularly acute for early-tenure nurses: more than 25% of nurses that turn over are in their first year of employment. Many of those leaving are under age 35.

For hospitals, this trend is particularly concerning because nurses younger than 35 comprise nearly one-third of the nursing workforce, and that percentage will only grow as baby boomer retirements tick up in the coming years.

How one hospital revamped its approach to hold onto new nurses

Many hospitals have sought to stem the churn of early-tenure nurses by adopting "peer buddy" programs to help recent graduates ease into the nursing profession. But such support typically lasts for only a few months—falling short of fully acclimating new hires to their roles.

UnityPoint Health-Methodist | Proctor has a different approach. The health system has a two-year, unit-based mentor program aimed at helping new nurses adjust to their roles—while also reducing turnover.

Since launching the program in 2002, UnityPoint has helped countless nurses receive the support they need to thrive in their roles, Jennie Van Antwerp, the director of acute care nursing at UnityPoint, said.

Here's how you can replicate UnityPoint's success in three simple steps.

Step 1: Mentoring is hard work. Support mentors with time and resources.

The first step is to allocate the right resources. Many peer buddy or mentorship programs peter out because people are busy with their daily work. UnityPoint has overcome this challenge by calling upon a small number of mentors and supporting those mentors with a structured program.

A clinical nurse educator allocates 20% of work time to coordinate the program, while mentors and mentees both receive up to 12 hours of paid time per year to engage in on-site mentoring activities, including cohort meetings and one-on-one conversations. Mentors receive an additional six hours of paid training annually, and every quarter mentors receive training to ensure that they are prepared to help new hires. Each unit receives annual funding to cover the cost of mentoring-related activities.  

Step 2: Identify mentors who have the passion—and the time—to do the job right.

The second step is picking mentors who are passionate about mentorship. In traditional mentorship programs, mentors are often called upon time and time again to support less experienced staff. This repetitive matching can lead to burnout and lack of interest in investing in mentees.

Instead of focusing on quantity—by assigning each mentee with one mentor—organizations should focus on quality, Advisory Board's Deline says. Managers should nominate a small number of experienced nurses who are eager to serve as mentors for their unit.

Under UnityPoint's mentorship program, a manager nominates between one to three mentors per unit to oversee a cohort of about eight new hires for two years. This longer-term commitment enables UnityPoint to invest in training a small group of volunteer mentors—and creating a group of mentors who can share and discuss their experiences together.

Step 3: Track how your mentors perform—and what they learn from your new hires.

Finally, organizations should create a system for mentors to track their mentorship activities. Documenting activities helps keep mentors accountable and provides organizations with vital information about the concerns of recent hires. That information can also help shape mentorship activities for future mentors and mentees.

At UnityPoint, mentors must submit a yearly form in which they describe the mentoring activities they facilitated as well as overall themes they noticed from engaging with new hires. The forms include yearly goals for their unit, plans for meeting those goals, and any topics they discussed during one-on-one meeting with their mentees, among other things.

As an incentive to mentors, UnityPoint offers stipends—which are determined by a points-based system that recognizes mentors for each activity they complete. Depending on how many points they accumulate, mentors can earn a small annual payout between $75 and $125.

Learn more

To learn more about how to retain early-tenure nurses and engage nursing staff in setting standards of behavior on their unit, join us tomorrow, August 23, for a webconference, where you'll learn best practices to restore nurse camaraderie on the unit by identifying and addressing incivility hot spots and reconnecting nurses through storytelling.

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