Journal of Nursing Education

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Educational Innovations 

Peer Mentoring: Untapped Potential

Susan Dennison, BScN, RN

Abstract

Peer mentoring is a potential solution to the many challenges that nursing education is faced with today, including increasing class sizes, rising competency requirements, decreasing number of faculty, tightening budgets, and shrinking clinical placement opportunities. This article describes a successful peer mentoring program in the nursing clinical learning center at a southern Ontario university. The benefits to mentors, students, and the educational institution are discussed. In their role, peer mentors develop an increase in confidence with skills as well as with leadership and teaching abilities. Peer mentors provide a student-centered service that results in frequent positive feedback from students in all levels of the nursing program. A suggestion for the future potential of this role also is offered to expand undergraduate nursing students’ exposure to peer mentoring.

Abstract

Peer mentoring is a potential solution to the many challenges that nursing education is faced with today, including increasing class sizes, rising competency requirements, decreasing number of faculty, tightening budgets, and shrinking clinical placement opportunities. This article describes a successful peer mentoring program in the nursing clinical learning center at a southern Ontario university. The benefits to mentors, students, and the educational institution are discussed. In their role, peer mentors develop an increase in confidence with skills as well as with leadership and teaching abilities. Peer mentors provide a student-centered service that results in frequent positive feedback from students in all levels of the nursing program. A suggestion for the future potential of this role also is offered to expand undergraduate nursing students’ exposure to peer mentoring.

Ms. Dennison is Nursing Laboratory and Education Coordinator, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

The author has no financial or proprietary interest in the materials presented herein.

The author thanks Professor Michelle Freeman, lecturer and nursing faculty at the University of Windsor, for her guidance, encouragement, editing, and mentorship.

Address correspondence to Susan Dennison, BScN, RN, Nursing Laboratory and Education Coordinator, University of Windsor, Faculty of Nursing, Nursing Laboratory, Health Education Center Room 210, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9B 3P4, e-mail: dennison@uwindsor.ca.

Received: May 01, 2009
Accepted: June 30, 2009
Posted Online: June 03, 2010

Nursing education currently is faced with many challenges. Increasing class sizes, rising competency requirements, decreasing number of faculty, tightening budgets, and shrinking clinical placement opportunities all contribute to stress on the educational program. The creation and promotion of peer mentoring opportunities may be a practical solution to lessen the burden on faculty, provide peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and increase leadership and teaching skills of senior nursing students.

Peer mentoring is not a new concept, although it has a longer history in business and management than in the nursing profession. Although the definition of mentoring varies in the literature, it is commonly described as a process in which a more experienced individual assists a less experienced individual in some manner (Dorsey & Baker, 2004).

A variety of different applications of peer mentoring with nursing students has been described in the research. Peer mentoring has been used with an academic focus (Blowers, Ramsey, Merriman, & Grooms, 2003; Jeffreys, 2001; Penman & White, 2006), a socialization or personal growth focus (Gilmour, Kopeikin, & Douché, 2007; Glass & Walter, 2000; Scott, 2005), a clinical focus (Duchscher, 2001; Sprengel & Job, 2004), and a laboratory or skill practice focus (Goldsmith, Stewart, & Ferguson, 2006; Owens & Walden, 2001; Yates, Cunningham, Moyle, & Wollin, 1997).

Regardless of the method of application, mentoring is a valuable educational strategy and requires an understanding of another person’s experience and the development of a trusting, collegial relationship. The Canadian Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics (2008) states that all nurses have a responsibility for mentoring students and other nurses. Developing students’ mentoring skills therefore should be a focus in nursing schools, benefiting both the faculty and the students. This article describes a successful peer mentoring program at one southern Ontario university and discusses the benefits and future potential of this role.

Peer Mentoring Program

The peer mentoring program operates out of the nursing laboratory, which is called the clinical learning center. Peer mentors are senior nursing students who act as a role model and resource to other students. Primary functions of peer mentors include:

  • Assisting students in all levels of the program with skill practice and critical thinking.
  • Developing new learning opportunities in the clinical learning center.
  • Setting up supplies and equipment for scheduled laboratories.
  • Cleaning and organizing the clinical learning center.
  • Assisting students with selection of health promotion materials and other resources for client teaching.
  • Supporting an open, comfortable learning environment.

The five peer mentor positions in the clinical learning center are highly desired by nursing students, not only because the positions are paid but also because of the experience that peer mentors gain.

The peer mentoring program has evolved during the past 3 years to become more structured. The hiring process has been formalized with clear competency requirements. Students who are eligible for the peer mentor role must have a diverse skill set, including a combination of academic skills and exceptional clinical skills with emphasis on organization, communication, and leadership potential. The orientation has been redesigned to include a review of assessment and clinical skills, orientation to the laboratory resources and simulation equipment, and discussion of the mentoring role with practical scenarios that peer mentors may encounter.

Program Benefits

Peer mentors can clearly describe the benefits of the peer mentoring program. A request for written comments from the current peer mentors regarding the benefits of the role revealed results consistent with the literature (Table).

Peer Mentoring Benefits Survey Responses

Table: Peer Mentoring Benefits Survey Responses

By assisting other students, peer mentors quickly realize how much they have learned and also how much more they have to learn. Peer mentors report being challenged by the wide variety of new questions they are asked during each shift. They have the additional benefit of learning from other students in all years of the program, which is unusual in nursing schools where students often are segregated by program year.

Just like nurses in the real world, peer mentors are not expected to have all of the answers. Rather, they are mentored and learn to seek resources to answer questions. This helps demonstrate the reality of the nursing profession: that seeking evidence for practice is a lifelong process.

One of the unexpected benefits of the peer mentors’ role has been their contribution to the organization of the clinical learning center. Peer mentors are encouraged to improve how the clinical learning center functions to meet the needs of the students. The peer mentors’ creativity, superior computer skills, and comfort with technology have changed how the clinical learning center works. Peer mentors were instrumental in computerizing many of the most tedious and time-consuming processes, including the center’s equipment inventory and laboratory utilization data.

Peer mentors are encouraged to address clinical questions they have encountered and create learning opportunities for other students using an information board. The information board was designed to encourage critical thinking by presenting questions related to information such as laboratory values.

In addition, peer mentors have proved invaluable in identifying and addressing inconsistencies among how skills are taught, what the textbook states, and what hospital policies dictate. The peer mentors provide a link to help close the gaps between the nursing laboratory and ever-changing health care policies, procedures, supplies, and equipment. Peer mentors are one way to stay in the loop.

Peer mentors also are able to provide one-on-one attention to students in the clinical learning center. They are available to answer questions related to the nursing program, courses, assignments, and professors. With the increased class size and greater demands on faculty members’ time, this is a valuable student-centered service with frequent positive comments from students in all levels of the program.

The laboratory coordinator has witnessed the development of the peer mentors from when they first start to their graduation. Peer mentors’ knowledge, confidence, initiative, and leadership skills are all increased. It is beneficial for students to see the peer mentors in this role, and they serve as a benchmark of what can be achieved with hard work and dedication.

The Future

Currently, there are a limited number of peer mentor positions, and in light of the many benefits to both the mentors and mentees, more students need to be provided with this experience. This role improves leadership and teaching skills, both important competencies for nursing students and potential faculty in the future.

Larger classes, fewer clinical placements, and the decreased number of faculty are large challenges. The nursing laboratory may serve as an excellent clinical placement for select senior students acting in a peer mentorship role. From an institutional perspective, the time may be ripe to introduce this student-centered strategy, not only to improve student and faculty satisfaction but also to reduce costs and improve efficiency and effectiveness of the traditional nursing laboratory experience. With benefits to both students and mentors, and also the educational facility, peer mentoring is a strategy with untapped potential.

References

  • Blowers, S., Ramsey, P., Merriman, C. & Grooms, J. (2003). Patterns of peer tutoring in nursing. Journal of Nursing Education, 42, 204–211.
  • Canadian Nurses Association. (2008). Code of ethics for registered nurses. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from http://www.cna-aiic.ca/CNA/documents/pdf/publications/Code_of_Ethics_2008_e.pdf
  • Dorsey, L.E. & Baker, C.M. (2004). Mentoring undergraduate nursing students: Assessing the state of the science. Nurse Educator, 29, 260–265. doi:10.1097/00006223-200411000-00013 [CrossRef]
  • Duchscher, J.E. (2001). Peer learning: A clinical teaching strategy to promote active learning. Nurse Educator, 26, 59–60. doi:10.1097/00006223-200103000-00007 [CrossRef]
  • Gilmour, J.A., Kopeikin, A. & Douché, J. (2007). Student nurses as peer-mentors: Collegiality in practice. Nurse Education in Practice, 7, 36–43. doi:10.1016/j.nepr.2006.04.004 [CrossRef]
  • Glass, N. & Walter, R. (2000). An experience of peer mentoring with student nurses: Enhancement of personal and professional growth. Journal of Nursing Education, 39, 155–160.
  • Goldsmith, M., Stewart, L. & Ferguson, L. (2006). Peer learning partnership: An innovative strategy to enhance skill acquisition in nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 26, 123–130. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2005.08.001 [CrossRef]
  • Jeffreys, M.R. (2001). Evaluating enrichment program study groups: Academic outcomes, psychological outcomes, and variables influencing retention. Nurse Educator, 26, 142–149. doi:10.1097/00006223-200105000-00017 [CrossRef]
  • Owens, L.D. & Walden, D.J. (2001). Peer instruction in the learning laboratory: A strategy to decrease student anxiety. Journal of Nursing Education, 40, 375–377.
  • Penman, J. & White, F. (2006). Peer-mentoring program ‘pop-up’ model for regional nursing students. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 3, 123–135.
  • Scott, E.S. (2005). Peer-to-peer mentoring: Teaching collegiality. Nurse Educator, 30, 52–56.
  • Sprengel, A.D. & Job, L. (2004). Reducing student anxiety by using clinical peer mentoring with beginning nursing students. Nurse Educator, 29, 246–250. doi:10.1097/00006223-200411000-00010 [CrossRef]
  • Yates, P., Cunningham, J., Moyle, W. & Wollin, J. (1997). Peer mentorship in clinical education: Outcomes of a pilot programme for first year students. Nurse Education Today, 17, 508–514. doi:10.1016/S0260-6917(97)80013-5 [CrossRef]

Peer Mentoring Benefits Survey Responses

Benefits to Peer Mentors

Gained an opportunity to review knowledge and stay current with skills
Enabled networking with faculty, instructors, and students
Participated in a rewarding experience helping others
Gained respect of peers and faculty

Benefits to Mentees

Became less intimidated and more comfortable
Gained perspective of a peer mentor who has had a similar experience
Authors

Ms. Dennison is Nursing Laboratory and Education Coordinator, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

The author has no financial or proprietary interest in the materials presented herein.

Address correspondence to Susan Dennison, BScN, RN, Nursing Laboratory and Education Coordinator, University of Windsor, Faculty of Nursing, Nursing Laboratory, Health Education Center Room 210, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9B 3P4, e-mail: .dennison@uwindsor.ca

10.3928/01484834-20100217-04

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