The Nurse as Mentor and Role Model


Published: 12 November 2018

“Be a role model because you can and because you care” (Anonymous).

Remember back to your nurse training or your first job. Who was the nurse who took time to educate and guide you through your first weeks? Talked you through all of those tacit skills and clinical hurdles that really challenged you as the inexperienced nurse?

Now, reflecting on yourself as a nurse, have you modelled yourself on traits you observed in this person and then carried this forward into your practice?

All nurses can act as mentors and role models, and can assist new nurses in their professional development, competence and confidence in the workplace.

Why is Role Modelling and Mentorship Important?

There are two key areas of personal and professional development that are facilitated by role modelling and mentorship.

Support in the Clinical Environment

Continuing support in the clinical environment is key, as the experiences that students have in this space can shape their nursing identity, along with how they approach ongoing professional development moving forward (Perry, 2009; Vinales, 2015).

It also highlights the plethora of instances in which workplace learning can be used (Stuart, 2014). Professional socialisation through the preceptorship model in nursing is based on role modelling and the opportunities to learn from clinicians in real-world healthcare situations (Gaberson, Oermann & Shellenbarger, 2018).

Facilitating Translation to Practice

Translating new knowledge into practice can be an arduous process, both for new and experienced nurses. There are numerous constructivist education theories which can aid nurses to align the learnt theoretical knowledge with the application into the real-world clinical environment. These include Benner’s (1984) “novice to expert” or Bondy’s (1983) “dependent to independent” frameworks.

However, these often cannot substitute for being guided, supported and inspired by nursing colleagues who model best practice of this new knowledge in the clinical environment (Echevarria, 2013).

Observation is also essential to tacit knowledge development (Bandura, 1997).

Applying learned knowledge into relevant situations through role modelling is a core component of professional development in the translation of theory into clinical practice (Baldwin, Bentley, Langtree & Mills, 2014).


Positive Role Modelling and Mentoring Behaviours

There are a number of important characteristics of positive role models and mentors. These include:

  • The demonstration of evidence-based practice (Jack, Hamshire & Chambers, 2017)
  • An enthusiasm for learning and moral courage in the clinical environment (Felstead & Springett, 2016)
  • A range of interpersonal skills, including approachability and enthusiasm (Perry, 2009; Stuart, 2014).
  • Clinical competence
  • Effective teaching skills (Cruess, Cruess & Steinert, 2008).

Demonstrating positive role modelling and mentoring behaviours, whether formally or informally, can lead to enhanced patient care, job satisfaction and unit retention (Hunter & Cook, 2018). As nurses we should be constantly aware of our responsibilities as role models and mentors to colleagues (Cruess, Cruess & Steinert, 2008).

Modelling Negative Behaviour

It is important to recognise that learning does not only occur as a result of modelling positive behaviour. Learning can also occur from negative experiences, with nurses using these experiences to construct their identity (Grealish & Ranse, 2009).

Understanding both positive and negative interactions that we experience and can learn from highlights the importance of reflection in nursing (Cruess, Cruess & Steinert, 2008).

The Nurse Educator as a Collaborator

The Nurse Educator and preceptor are key players in the mentorship of new staff.

If we consider the role of preceptor or educator compared to that of the learner, we often expect the learner to reflect and highlight areas of development, whereas the educator will often remain closed off in a professional manner.

Bearman & Molloy (2017) describe this one-sided relationship, or the ‘one side reveal’, as one in which the educator does not open up in order to maintain credibility and professional boundaries. To facilitate true dialogue and growth, there needs to be a change in how the role of preceptor or educator is viewed.

Bearman & Molloy (2017) call for the educator to open up as part of professional identity. Creating a balance of credibility and vulnerability is part of ‘intellectual candour’ (Bearman & Molloy, 2017).

Intellectual candour in the teacher-learner relationship allows for open dialogue and discussion, where it is acceptable for the teacher not to always have the answer (Molloy & Bearman, 2018). Learning then occurs in the form of a partnership, where the traditional hierarchies are levelled. This form of pedagogy is known as heutagogy.

Nurse as Mentor and Role Model

Culture Eats Strategy

A safe environment within which people can learn and be accepting of failure is essential for intellectual candour (Molloy & Bearman, 2018). Environments which also encourage and facilitate students’ feelings of belonging in the clinical setting are vital aspects of personal and team development in nurse training (Levett-Jones, Lathlean, Mcmillan & Higgins, 2007).

Through leadership strategies comes the influence of the nursing leadership team on how the nursing team are engaged in meeting professional standards (Felstead & Springett, 2016; Perry, 2009).

Avoiding a culture which accepts poor standards seems a straightforward task with safety core business across healthcare, but Darbyshire & Ion (2018) highlight the severe outcomes that can occur when culture goes wrong.


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