By Barbara Krainovich-Miller, EdD, APRN, BC, ANEF
Assistant Dean, Academic Initiatives; Clinical Professor and Program Coordinator, Nursing Education Master’s Program NYU College of Nursing
Terry Fulmer, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dean and Erline Perkins McGriff Professor, NYU College of Nursing
A mentor is an individual who, through alchemy with another person, the protégé, decides to invest her/his time and energy in assisting the protégé’s career development. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a mentor as a trusted counselor or guide, tutor, or coach. The word is derived from Mentor, the name of a character in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus entrusted his friend Mentor with his infant son’s education and safety during his absence. Mentor felt great concern and love for the boy, who reciprocated the feeling.
The concept of mentorship has stood the test of time. The large body of literature (both fiction and nonfiction), and a small, growing body of science from interdisciplinary health and business disciplines, supports the significance of mentors’ contributions to the personal and professional development of individuals in general and of faculty and students in particular (e.g., Bennis, 2004; Kelley & Aiken, Hughey, 1997; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2000; Kostovich & Thurn, 2006; Matthew-Maich et al., 2007; Morin & Ashton, 2004; Roberts & Turnbull, 2002; Rudy & Grady, 2005; Vance 2000).
At the NYU College of Nursing (NYUCN), we see mentorship as key to a successful educational enterprise within a research-intensive university. Success in this context includes developing the next generation of nursing leaders.
Mentoring Strategies at the College of Nursing
Current evidence indicates that when senior faculty are formally committed to faculty development programs, important outcomes emerge in terms of promotion and tenure. For example, William and Blackburn’s (1988) study revealed that faculty who worked with senior mentors had a significant increase in research productivity compared to those who were not in a mentoring relationship. A later study by Roberts and Turnbull (2002), a critical review of studies on faculty scholarship, linked the importance of a senior mentor to scholarly outcomes of new and junior faculty. Morin’s and Ashton’s (2004) integrative review of all relevant research literature on faculty development studies between 1980 and 2003 revealed 19 quality studies, which supported the identification of a faculty mentor to facilitate a new recruit’s transition to the faculty role. Rudy and Grady’s (2005) study of NIH-funded nurses indicated all were current faculty and they self-identified mentoring as one of the major factors contributing to their successes. Matthew-Maich et al. (2007) found that when mentorship was part of a nursing faculty- development program on problem-based learning, it decreased new faculty uncertainty and increased both collegial trust and a sense of community. Despite this growing body of science, however, further research on mentoring needs to be conducted in order to determine the variables and outcomes related to successful mentoring programs.
At the College of Nursing, mentorship encompasses both formal and informal approaches designed to help faculty who are new to academe develop in ways that ensure progression and success, whether along clinical or tenure-track lines. Caring constructs permeate our mission, vision, and goals and inform the design and implementation of systems to help ensure that we retain faculty and students and that they achieve their goals.
When junior faculty are hired, we have an obligation to support them because they, in turn, will later support others. Students, ever observant, pick up on the relationship patterns of mentors and protégés and identify effective role models. Indeed, successful student outcomes and successfully mentored faculties are indivisible.
NYUCN’s formal mentoring program includes: (a) assigning new faculty to senior faculty, (b) providing monthly faculty-development evening dinner workshops related to the essential themes of our strategic plan, and (c) providing bimonthly development sessions for day faculty.
The informal program includes inviting new faculty to: (a) attend the Dean’s monthly get-together dinners, (b) take advantage of NYU’s Center for Teaching Excellence monthly workshops, (c) participate in monthly research council meetings, and (d) participate in Thursday research presentations.
The concept of assigning a mentor to faculty is an interesting one, and could be debated. Some argue that mentors cannot be assigned and that the mentoring relationship has to develop spontaneously and gradually, with both individuals recognizing an affinity for one another. However, the intention of initially assigning a senior mentor is to ensure that new faculty members have access to an ongoing and caring dialogue with a senior faculty member. Assigning a senior mentor activates the process but does not preclude the new faculty member from seeking another mentor within the College or even within other units of the University. Indeed, it is hoped that it fosters the notion that we all need more than one mentor.
The formal faculty development workshops are conducted by senior interdisciplinary faculty as well as by outside experts. Scholarly interactive dinner sessions facilitate attendance. The goal is to expose new faculty to the key concepts that are threaded across the curricula of the BS, MS, and PhD programs, such as evidence- based practice and reduction of healthcare disparities for vulnerable, underserved populations, as well as to acquaint new faculty with opportunities for professional growth provided by two signature collaborative initiatives issuing from the nursing/dentistry alliance.
The informal mentorship program begins with the Dean serving as the original mentor over the first year. The initial new faculty dinner conversations serve as an opportunity for the Dean to get to know new faculty as individuals so that initial matches of senior faculty have every chance of success. These events provide a relaxed atmosphere in which to foster mentor-protégé opportunities. In no time, people sense if they are with the right mentor, and if not, they are encouraged by the Dean to change as needed. Hopefully, mentors and protégés enter into this relationship with the understanding that the purpose is to create a supportive environment that will allow a new faculty member to succeed in scholarly work related to teaching, securing research grants, publishing, and learning how to get the work/life balance right (Cubie et al., 2005).
Feedback from new faculty members reveals several secondary benefits from attending both the Dean’s dinners and other formal and informal mentoring meetings and workshops. These encounters provide an opportunity to network and establish new friendships.
It is very gratifying to know that the College of Nursing’s mentorship program shares Dean Bertolami’s conviction that everyone needs a mentor and that the mentor-protégé connection can be one of the deepest and most satisfying human relationships outside of the direct family bond. We believe that faculty who are mentored carefully will become, as he puts it, worthy of being emulated as mentors by our students.