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Teaching Excellence

Laurie Theeke

Strategies for Developing a Mentor Network

Nursing faculty often struggle with developing and maintaining a mentoring network even though mentoring is essential for continued advancement in academia. Nursing faculty are not regularly educated on skills needed to develop and maintain a mentoring network. This is problematic because it is known that effective mentoring can lead to new innovations in nursing science, advancement to leadership roles, and excellence in clinical and didactic teaching. Making time to identify and connect with mentors could make all of the difference in your career path. Remember that mentors can be helpful in a multitude of ways. A great mentor will challenge your current thinking, validate significant accomplishments, provide sponsorships for organizations, give nominations for recognition. Perhaps most importantly, a mentor is a source of regular, meaningful feedback to overcome barriers or challenges as they are experienced. Mentoring was an essential of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars (RWJF NFS) Program and for that program, nursing faculty were linked to a school (or college), university, and national mentor.1

The following strategies can be used in a time-efficient way to build a network designed to fuel your future success in academia:

Prior to seeking mentors, take some time for self-reflection.
It is important that you have self-awareness about openness to feedback prior to seeking mentorship.  When you develop a new relationship with a desired mentor, it is important that you are open to hearing and acting on what your mentor is saying.  A skilled mentor has mastered the art of giving constructive feedback while maintaining a reassuring presence in the face of future uncertainties.

Identify at least three key areas where you need career and personal development.
Plan to seek mentors to meet these specific needs or knowledge gaps. For example, if you acknowledge that it is your goal to become an academic leader, then seek a mentor who has experienced leadership in academia and meet with them regularly to focus on this specific area of development.

Seek mentors who have adequate time to meet your needs.
You can only benefit from a mentor if they actually have time to meet with you, listen, and review work to provide feedback. Seeking the most renowned expert in your field may be a goal but if they do not have time, adjust your thinking and seek a different  mentor who is a known content expert with time to give. Mentoring takes patience, time, and attentiveness so making sure that your mentor has this to give is essential.

Build a team of mentors including a peer, university, research and national mentor.
The outcomes of the RWJF NFS program have been outstanding.2 Following their lead, it is recommended that you seek four mentors at a minimum. Peer mentors have the ability to understand your experiences, challenge your thinking, and validate your successes. University mentors will provide feedback on career development, creativity within your program of research, and ensure that you understand university system issues. Research mentors will provide feedback on how to take your innovative ideas to the next level. National mentors will guide you on understanding your disciplinary perspective and your role on a national or global level.

Consider a mentoring map and Individual Development Plan.
Successful development requires drive, dedication, persistence, and optimism. Taking time to complete a mentoring map will help you to better understand your resources and current limitations. Completing an Individual Development Plan with your mentors will ensure that you have clearly defined and measurable goals for each year.

Evaluate your mentoring map annually and plan for changes.
As you grow and develop in your faculty role, remember to revisit your mentoring map and plan. New knowledge gaps will be identified as you advance in your career. Keep an open mind about establishing new mentoring relationships and ending old ones as you meet goals. Mentoring relationships should be established for a defined time and then re-negotiated based on continuing need.

REFERENCES

1.            McBride, A.B., et al., Building a mentoring network. Nurs Outlook, 2017. 65(3): p. 305-314.

2.            Gillespie, G.L., et al., A summative evaluation of productivity and accomplishments of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars Program participants. J Prof Nurs, 2018. 34(4): p. 289-295.

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