PASSING THE TORCH: A Faculty Mentoring Program at One School of Nursing
By Blauvelt, Margaret J Spath, Mary L
ABSTRACT This article describes a formal mentoring program for new nurse faculty at a small, private, midwestern university. Awareness of the shortage of available qualified nursing educators, loss of faculty due to retirement, and the desire to retain novice faculty prompted the initiation of a mentoring program in a rapidly expanding nursing department. Caring concepts from a previously offered “Caring” course were integrated into the mentoring program. Personalized attention, encouragement, and support and development of a positive attitude toward teaching were reported by new faculty in the program and mentor evaluations. Continuation of this program and recognition of mentoring as part of a faculty member’s teaching load demonstrate the Department of Nursing’s commitment to this process.
Key words Mentor – Protege – Nursing Education – Caring – Nurse Faculty Shortage – Nurse Faculty
Recognition of the acute shortage of nurses in this country is evident in professional writing and publications, through employment recruitment incentives by hospitals and health care facilities, and, more recently, publicly noted in media advertisements. It is estimated that 126,000 nurses are currently needed to fill hospital vacancies and that more than one million nurses will be needed by the year 2012 (I). Awareness of this shortage has not led to the same level of recognition regarding the current shortage of nurse faculty. In the academic year 2004-2005, 43-7 percent of all applications submitted by qualified applicants to prelicensure nursing programs were rejected, with a large part of the reason being a shortage of nurse faculty to meet the growing demand for nursing education (2). * The shortage of faculty is connected to many known factors, including low salaries, the academic credentials demanded by higher education, and the “graying” of current faculty (48 percent of nurse educators are age 5 5 and over) (3-5). In addition, faculty face many demands imposed by academia (teaching, research, and service) that define benchmark standards of academic professionalism. As a practice profession, nursing encompasses both academic and clinical domains, so educators face the dual expectations of being knowledgeable and having expertise in both areas (6).
The additive effects of this stress may be underestimated by professionals in other disciplines who do not understand nursing’s unique evolution from diploma schools to university climates, and who do not face the societal pressures of producing highly educated and technically expert graduates. These unique demands provide challenge and stress that can be daunting to new nurse faculty members.
Nursing has taken a leadership role in addressing the shortage of faculty. DeYoung, Bliss, and Tracy (7) propose a variety of solutions that primarily focus on more aggressive and inclusive recruitment strategies. However, recruitment is not the only avenue for finding solutions to the faculty shortage. Nurturing and retaining new faculty through mentoring are viable options to address this issue.
The Mentoring Program This article describes a year-long formal mentoring program designed to nurture and develop new faculty and foster faculty retention. The program was implemented because of the rapid expansion of the nursing department and the need to orient several new faculty members at one time.
The integration of mentoring into faculty orientation has been strongly recommended in the literature. Orientation and mentoring programs for new nurse faculty are described (8,9), and evidence- based guidelines for faculty orientation have been derived from analyses of existing faculty orientation programs, both nursing and non-nursing (6). A recent position statement by the National League for Nursing advocates the use of mentoring as a strategy to socialize and develop new nurse faculty (10).
Mentoring implies a relationship between one who is expert and another who looks to the expert for knowledge, consultation, and advocacy. Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus defines a mentor as “a wise, loyal adviser.” Use of the word loyal indicates that the mentor’s dedication to the protege is integral to the process. A caring approach by the mentor for the protege’s well- being, growth, and success is thus implied.
In designing the mentoring program, a “caring” course offered in the nursing curriculum enhanced the integration of caring concepts and principles into formal and informal interactions. These include several of Leininger’s care constructs (11) – support, compassion, empathy, stress alleviation, helping behaviors, and nurturance – that are well aligned with the values and mission of the department and the institution.
The Mentor Role A successful mentor must be accessible, approachable, nonjudgmental, intuitive, and empathie. Watson states that “the nurse who is sensitive to feelings is able to make another person feel understood, accepted, and capable of moving toward a more mature level of functioning and growth” (12, p. 19).
Accessibility and approachability are crucial when a protege is struggling with a decision or does not know an institutional protocol that may affect a particular situation. The mentor must be able to anticipate and detect in the protege feelings of inadequacy, doubt, or a sense of being overwhelmed. Perceptiveness on the part of the mentor is critical, for rarely will proteges expose their fears unless they feel safe, accepted, and in the company of someone who not only has experienced many of the same issues and feelings, but is willing to admit it to new faculty.
Davidhizar (13) believes that proteges can learn from the mistakes that mentors are willing to share, integrating the mentor’s knowledge into their own professional learning. A sense of trust is established through caring strategies such as the mentor’s storytelling of her own experiences, insecurities, and inadequacies during her teaching career. The need for caring, as emphasized by Leininger (14) and exemplified by the mentor, enables growth professionally and personally.
It is important that the mentor be a seasoned faculty member who exudes enthusiasm, portrays professionalism, and has an extensive knowledge of nursing education as well as a working knowledge of the policies, procedures, and the goals of the institution. The respect of other faculty is also important. In this mentoring program, faculty are assigned to the mentor role through the mutual agreement of the Department of Nursing chair and the faculty member. Because of the time commitment required of the peer mentor, this role is considered part of the faculty mentor’s teaching load. The mentor assignment is renegotiated every year to maintain continuity throughout each protege cohort’s first year of teaching.
How the Program Is Structured All new faculty attend a general orientation to the university and to the Department of Nursing. At the conclusion of this orientation, the mentoring program and its purpose are presented and the assigned mentor is introduced. The program consists of multiple elements.
EARLY INTERACTIONS During the initial interaction, the mentor gains awareness of the varied backgrounds and academic experiences of the group members and begins a collaborative assessment with proteges regarding their learning needs. (One new faculty member may have previous teaching experience with graduate specialization in education, while another may have a strong clinical or administrative background without teaching experience.) This assessment, along with other introductory information, allows the mentor to begin preliminary planning and prioritization of pertinent topics.
Proteges receive a mentor program notebook that outlines eight topics addressed in the mentoring program. (See Figure.) Policies, forms, articles, websites, and tips are found within each section. As each section is introduced, discussion of the group’s knowledge of the topic provides the mentor with insight into individual learning needs and proficiencies.
The structure of the program involves weekly group meetings of mentors and proteges during the first semester. During the second semester, one-on-one meetings take place. Topics of interest are initiated by the protege.
FEEDBACK AND EVALUATION The opportunity for mentorprotege communication through ongoing feedback and evaluation is a critical component of the mentoring process. Through selfassessment, proteges identify topics for which they would like guidance, such as effective teaching strategies, syllabi, test construction, and classroom management. In addition to providing assistance with the development of these skills, the mentor may provide oral and/or written consultation after observation of the protege’s teaching, review of a protege-prepared syllabus and course assignment, and use of educational strategies in the classroom.
Orientation to the Faculty Role Proteges receive support, guidance, and resources from the mentor as faculty role socialization occurs. Role development is fostered through review of expectations as defined in the nurse faculty job description and through examination of the NLN’s Core Competencies of Nurse Educators (15).
Boyer’s Model of Scholarship (16,17) provides the basis for faculty roles at the university. Therefore, an introduction regarding the application of the model for the university’s expectations of faculty members is presented. Boyer’s model, as applied to faculty job descriptions, promotion and tenure, and vitae format, is reviewed. The mentor emphasizes the importance of engagement in the scholarship of teaching in initial role formation, with an expanded focus on integrating other scholarship domains as proteges progress in role development. CLASSROOM AND TESTING New faculty are trained in webassisted course design and facilitation, because both theory and clinical nursing courses use this modality in varying degrees. Individual and group assistance with course design, syllabi, teaching, and classroom management is provided. Resources on active lecturing, writing educational objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy (18), concept mapping, student behavior, and issues pertinent to learning are available.
The testing portion of the mentoring program includes test construction resources and an explanation of test blueprints as a template for constructing tests. A unit on testing and evaluation is presented so that proteges can become familiar with university and program guidelines for grading, progression, and dismissal. University policies on plagiarism and dishonesty are reviewed, and strategies to prevent and detect these violations are presented.
Proteges are also introduced to the concepts of test analysis, which include item difficulty, item discrimination, and distracter effectiveness. These concepts are examined with a view toward improving test questions that require students to think critically. The current National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN(R)) test blueprint is reviewed so that proteges can examine integrated concepts and the distribution of content.
CLINICAL Student clinical and agency policies, clinical evaluation forms and grading, and clinical course evaluation reports are explained. Informal discussions are conducted on postconference topics, student performance issues, and pass/fail clinical grading. Many new faculty have previously taught students in the clinical setting and are familiar with these procedures. Therefore, this area of the mentoring program is tailored to the individual protege.
Faculty members who oversee the coordination of clinical courses disseminate specific clinical course information. For example, the course coordinator for advanced Medical/Surgical Nursing would orient new faculty to that particular clinical course.
CURRICULUM A concise explanation of curriculum construction provides an understanding of the framework that guides the department’s programs. The ASN and BSN program curricular components are examined. Beginning with the philosophy of the Department of Nursing, each program’s supporting processes, threads, concepts, and theories are reviewed. Program goals are derived from the department philosophy and the program curriculum framework. The mentor explains that program goals are the basis from which appropriate course and clinical objectives are written. Time is allotted for practice in writing objectives during group or individual mentoring sessions if requested.
ADVISING New faculty are extensively prepared for the advising role, which is an expectation of all nurse faculty. Advising includes assisting students in course selection each semester, guidance regarding progression policies, and assistance in preparation for the licensing examination.
This multifaceted role necessitates intensive individual mentoring. A working knowledge of all program options available to students is essential in order to advise students appropriately; therefore, the mentoring program includes advising sessions during which proteges observe the mentor to become familiar with the process. Subsequently, the mentor will observe the protege conducting an advising session, and faculty-student advising sessions will be discussed and critiqued.
Evaluation of the Program For the school year 2004-2005, five new faculty members were in the mentoring program; four were in the program in 2005-2006. Strengths of the program reported in protege evaluations included extensive explanation of the faculty role, introduction to varied resources, personalized attention, opportunities for discussion and socialization, encouragement and support, and interventions tailored to individual needs. Proteges found benefit in having a consistent and identified person to access for questions and concerns. They reported that recognition of their transition to the faculty role, as demonstrated by the Department of Nursing’s formalized mentoring program, exemplified the overall caring environment of the entire institution.
Proteges overwhelmingly responded that the mentor program provided individual support and assistance, helped them develop a positive attitude toward teaching, and enabled them to have a safe place to express frustration, fears, and uncertainties. They agreed that weekly meetings enabled them to form a cohort group in which members could identify known and unknown needs with others, socialize with one another, and find respite from their own insecurities and concerns about fulfilling their faculty role.
Since the onset of this formal approach to mentoring at the university, 15 new faculty members have participated in the year- long program. Out of the 15 faculty members, 12 continue to teach in the department. Proteges stated that this program enabled them to not only survive but thrive in their first year of teaching.
Recommendations Two primary program recommendations have been made by proteges: 1) extend the mentoring program beyond one year, and 2) decrease the ratio of proteges to mentors. Proteges believed that extension of the program beyond the first year was necessary because it would reinforce their refinement of teaching methods and help them clarify tenure and promotion options and strategies. The proteges expressed a strong desire to have a designated mentor to seek out for consultation and advice on a less intensive basis during the second year. Many stated that having the same mentor the second year would promote continuity.
Finding a time suitable for all members to attend the weekly group meetings was the primary rationale given for decreasing the size of the mentor/protege group. However, proteges stated that splitting a cohort group might be detrimental since bonding and socialization among new faculty could be affected.
Summary Entrance into academia is akin to entering a new culture. Easing the culture shock of novice faculty can be facilitated through a formal mentoring program that provides role education and socialization. A mentoring program that promotes protege-to-protege and protege-to-mentor relationships affirms the caring values of the department and the institution. In addition, it mirrors the milieu of the academic environment and the commitment of the school to its students and their success.
Experienced nurse faculty realize the value of caring as a focus of the profession and, similarly, a construct essential in furthering nursing education. Based on the acute nurse faculty shortage and the aging of faculty, it is imperative that the next generation of nurse educators be encouraged, nurtured, and welcomed into teaching. When this type of atmosphere is fostered, it seems logical that this same guidance and care will be passed on not only to peers but to nursing students, the next generation of practicing nurses.
A MENTORING PROGRAM that promotes protege-to-protege and protege- to-mentor relationships AFFIRMS THE CARING VALUES of the department and the institution, In addition, it mirrors the milieu of the academic environment and THE COMMITMENT of the school to its students and THEIR SUCCESS.
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About the Authors Margaret J. Blauvelt, MSN, MSE, RN, CNE, is associate professor of nursing, and Mary L. Spath, MSN, RN, CNE, is assistant professor of nursing, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, Indiana. For more information, contact Ms. Blauvelt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright National League for Nursing, Inc. Jan/Feb 2008
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