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Mentors: Learning from experts and expert teams

By: Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief

Travel your career path with a guide.

This month, American Nurse Journal announces the 2020 All-Pro Nursing Team winners. It’s exciting to hear about the attributes, projects, and skills that make a nursing team stand apart. How can we all learn from the winners? The accomplishments detailed through the words and videos of each submission are inspiring. I like to think of them as mentors and nurse influencers for all of us to admire. The fastest way to get ahead is to study the experts and do what they do; after all, no one has the time to learn everything from scratch. The stories published in this issue of the journal focus us on those expert nurses who can help us learn faster about what worked in their organizations. Consider it “borrowing” knowledge and skills from them that can pay big dividends for us in our practices.

“Borrowing knowledge” is different than “buying it.” When in school, you “buy” knowledge and skills as you pay tuition while learning from your professors. The reward is obtaining your diploma and nursing credential. When employed, continued development can be a challenge because of limited time or money, but learning from nurses who came before you can be a real win.

In addition to understanding the work of the award winners, how do we find others who can mentor us while we travel our professional paths? What’s the best way to benefit from their expertise? Here are five factors that have helped me along the way; maybe they can help you, too.

  1. Character: Character is a vital quality for a mentor. Your mentor should be someone you respect, admire, and want to emulate. The best mentors have high degrees of integrity, ethical decision-making, and good judgment. As you study and learn from them, you’ll tend to pattern your behavior after theirs.
  2. Competence: A mentor should have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to help you grow. Competence also builds confidence. Both are essential qualities for mentors who are guiding you across career paths.
  3. Openness: This factor goes both ways. Your willingness to open yourself up to another’s guidance and advice can be tough at first (especially if you don’t know the mentor well), but it’s key to understanding his or her influence and what he or she can offer you. Your mentor should be willing to help you meet your goals and be open to what you want to achieve to be successful.
  4. Clear goals and milestones: Think about what you want to achieve before seeking a mentor. You can better identify the person who can help you based on his or her talent. For example, I knew I wanted to obtain a doctor of nursing practice. With that vision in mind, I sought a mentor who could inform me about what the path would look like and what challenges I might have to overcome.
  5. Dedicated time: Most mentors stay engaged when they know their efforts are well worth their time. Send thank-you notes, updates, and short stories that show your progress. Set meeting times and stick to them. Express your gratitude often.

You’ll likely have more than one mentor during your career. Seek different mentors as your career evolves and choose them based on your situation at that time. In my 35 years of practice, I’ve been grateful for six mentors who supported and guided me as my career progressed. And I learned that the more you help others, the more they’ll help you and give right back.

Bravo to the All-Pro Nursing Team winners who give back to their profession, patients, and organizations every day. Congratulations, mentors!


– Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief



As we go to press, nurses are coping with an unprecedented challenge to our healthcare system in the form of COVID-19. Please know that we are thinking of you and your families during this difficult time.

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