At a critical time in the nursing profession, nursing organization officials are urging professional nurses to help alleviate the staffing shortage by becoming nursing student mentors.
In response to concerns that the difficult path into the profession is discouraging many potential nurses, officials at the Alpha Kappa Chapter at Large of Sigma Theta Tau have launched a mentoring program called Lamp Lighters. The program is aimed at high school graduates and college students who are interested in nursing or have declared a major in nursing.
Extensive and specific pre-nursing school prerequisites and a lack of encouragement from the professional nursing community are among the factors that are causing many prospective nurses to opt for other career paths, officials said.
"Some have said [Lamp Lighters] is what is needed to begin to change attitudes about nursing – as young men and women explore nursing as a career choice," said Rita Beam, RN, MS, supervisor and national educator for the Nurse Family Partnership at the National Center for Children, Families and Communities.
"My feeling is that when you give a nurse an opportunity to talk about nursing to someone new to the field, they will most often tell them what is great about nursing. Of course, nurses are realistic about what a nursing position is really like, but those who are willing to mentor usually will put a positive spin on the benefits of being a nurse. Even when I was tired and being stretched in my nursing practice, I loved to tell others what nursing has to offer," Beam said.
While the training and the profession are not easy, Beam said there’s always a silver lining – and spreading negative attitudes won’t help assuage the nursing shortage. "Most nurses will admit that even on a bad day, we get a lot back from our families and patients we care for," she said. "If nurses want to have more relief to our staffing issues, we must assist those who want to enter our profession see the benefits to our professional role and career opportunities."
A survey conducted by Sigma Theta Tau Alpha Kappa Chapter and three area nursing schools showed that students want to be mentored.
In the spring of 2001, 130 pre-nursing students identified by the CU, UNC and Regis University schools of nursing received the mentoring survey. More than three-quarters responded with a strong interest in having a professional mentor to support them as they tried to get into nursing school, while 84% were interested in having either an experienced nurse graduate or a senior nursing student available from their nursing school as a mentor.
It is hoped that Lamp Lighters will also help reduce attrition at nursing schools. Beam said academic advising often doesn’t assist nursing students in finding a nursing school program that is a good match for the student.
"Students who have a family or who must work during their academic program need to know about programs that will support them and make it feasible to finish their education most easily," she said. "I am in hopes that though mentors in this program are primarily meant to help the student prior to getting into a nursing program, they will influence the students direction to a program that will work for them and then once a relationship is built between them, they will stay in touch with that student even as they are in their nursing program."
Beam said the response to the program from practicing nurses has been positive, and there are a number of benefits that mentors receive for their efforts.
For instance, mentoring looks great on a resume. More and more employers are basing career advancement on what an employee does above and beyond his or her job description, Beam said. "I know when I applied to my masters program and for positions that were real career advancements, my volunteer work certainly was a factor taken into consideration. In some employment settings it is the bases for a raise, above what your performance evaluation or cost of living earned."
Another benefit that mentors would share, along with their mentorees, is increased awareness of the body of nursing literature, according to Beam. "Often when a student is completing their pre-requests for nursing, they are not even aware of being able to access nursing journals or literature to complete their course work. It would be a great benefit to those students – and keep them interested in the nursing field – to be able to use this knowledge and references as they complete required course work. This would also help them when they are accepted into a nursing program."
Beam will be matching up students and mentors based on common interests and mentor career experience. Once a pairing is made, mentors are encouraged to contact the student and set up a face-to-face encounter. From that point on, it’s up to the student and mentor to decide when and where they meet or talk.
It will ultimately be up to both the student and mentor to let program organizers if they are a good match or if a new pairing should be made. Beam said that in many cases, a mentoring nurse might know of another nurse who would be able to better help a particular student, and she hopes that will actually increase the base of mentors for the program.
Lamp Lighters is still in its infancy, and Beam will soon be trying to get program information into the hands of students who declare nursing or healthcare careers as their major. She hopes to develop relationships with the registrar’s office of the Colorado Secondary Education system to facilitate that process. She also plans to publicize the program through the media. "In addition, I will have to pursue funding sources to help me continue to get this program visible and integrated with the nursing community," she said.
For more information on the program, visit http://www.sttialphakappa.org.