Journal of Nursing Education

Research Briefs 

Exploring Mentees' Perceptions of an Undergraduate Nurse Peer Mentorship Program

Celia Lombardo, MSc(A), RN; Carissa Wong, MSc(A), RN; Lia Sanzone, MSc(A), RN; Françoise Filion, MSc(N), RN; Argerie Tsimicalis, PhD, RN

Abstract

Background:

A nurse peer mentorship program was implemented to address the needs of undergraduate nursing students at an academic institution. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of mentees who participated in the nurse peer mentorship program.

Method:

A qualitative descriptive study was conducted. Data were collected using semistructured interviews that were transcribed verbatim and descriptively analyzed using an inductive approach.

Results:

Eleven participants were interviewed. Participant narratives revealed themes related to the student experience as they transitioned to university and their unique needs that motivated them to join the program. Mentees described helpful mentor behaviors and provided insight into the academic, social, professional, and mental health benefits and personal growth experienced from peer mentorship. Participants shared factors that affected mentoring relationships.

Conclusion:

Study findings support the need for broad evaluations of peer mentorship programs and can inform educational leaders to improve mentorship support available for nursing students. [J Nurs Educ. 2017;56(4):227–230.]

Abstract

Background:

A nurse peer mentorship program was implemented to address the needs of undergraduate nursing students at an academic institution. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of mentees who participated in the nurse peer mentorship program.

Method:

A qualitative descriptive study was conducted. Data were collected using semistructured interviews that were transcribed verbatim and descriptively analyzed using an inductive approach.

Results:

Eleven participants were interviewed. Participant narratives revealed themes related to the student experience as they transitioned to university and their unique needs that motivated them to join the program. Mentees described helpful mentor behaviors and provided insight into the academic, social, professional, and mental health benefits and personal growth experienced from peer mentorship. Participants shared factors that affected mentoring relationships.

Conclusion:

Study findings support the need for broad evaluations of peer mentorship programs and can inform educational leaders to improve mentorship support available for nursing students. [J Nurs Educ. 2017;56(4):227–230.]

Peer mentorship is a strategy used to foster supportive, student-centered learning environments and help overcome the myriad academic, clinical, and personal challenges confronted by nursing students (Blowers, Ramsey, Merriman, & Grooms, 2003; Dorsey & Baker, 2004; Kim, Oliveri, Riingen, Taylor, & Rankin, 2013; Moscaritolo, 2009; Robinson & Neimer, 2010). Peer mentorship of nursing students is defined as a relationship where a more experienced nursing student develops a trusting relationship with a new or inexperienced nursing student (Botma, Hurter, & Kotze, 2013). Together, they create a learning partnership to address the mentee's personal goals related to academic, emotional, social, and professional achievements (Eby, Rhodes, & Allen, 2007). Results of an integrative review revealed that peer mentorship provides multiple benefits for nursing student mentees, including (a) academic (e.g., improved grades and enhanced critical thinking skills); (b) social (e.g., increased sense of support and increased network of friends); (c) mental health (e.g., decreased levels of stress and anxiety); and (d) professional (e.g., socialization of mentees into the nursing profession and improved satisfaction with nursing as a career) (Wong, Stake-Doucet, Lombardo, Sanzone, & Tsimicalis, 2016). The range of peer mentorship benefits for nursing students supports the need for broad evaluations of peer mentorship programs.

In 2014, a working group composed of nursing students and faculty was convened to develop a nurse peer mentorship program (NPMP) for undergraduate nursing students. Over the course of the academic year, the NPMP facilitated the provision of peer mentorship to address the unmet needs of students associated with the transition to university life. Nursing students from all academic years volunteered to participate as NPMP mentees and received mentorship from more senior nursing students who had volunteered to serve as mentors. Students were also permitted to simultaneously take on the role of mentor while receiving mentorship. Dyads were paired based on similarities using a questionnaire created by the NPMP advisory committee (Table A, available in the online version of this article). The NPMP committee also organized activities such as active-listening workshops, a meet-and-greet event, and an end-of-the-year celebration. Mentorship dyads were expected to negotiate the mentoring frequencies, topics of discussion, and method of communication based on their availability and mentees' specific needs. After the first year of implementing the NPMP, understanding the mentees' perceptions of the NPMP was pivotal to target program improvements and provide insights for a future scaled-up program evaluation.


NPMP Questionnaire
NPMP Questionnaire
NPMP Questionnaire

Table A:

NPMP Questionnaire

Method

Following ethical approval from the university's institutional review board, a qualitative descriptive study was conducted to explore the perceptions of mentees who participated in the first year of the NPMP. All 41 mentees (i.e., 39 women and two men) enrolled in the NPMP and who received mentorship from a nursing student who was at least 1 academic year above the mentee were eligible for study participation. Convenience sampling, followed by snowball sampling, was used to recruit participants. Semistructured interviews were conducted with consenting participants, in person or through videoconference. Interview audiorecordings were transcribed verbatim, verified, and independently read, coded, and compared for consistency. An inductive approach was used to generate emerging categories and themes (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). Member checking was completed through an online survey to validate findings.

Findings

Ten women and one man participated in the study, having an average age of 20 years (SD = 1.62). At the time of the interview, participants were full-time students who were registered as mentees in the past academic year; one was in the first year, nine were in the second year, and one was in the third and final year of the undergraduate nursing program. In addition, all participants had recently registered to become program mentors in the upcoming academic year. Five themes about the nursing students' university experiences and their motivations for joining the NPMP were found. Mentees described beneficial mentor behaviors and provided insights into the academic, social, professional, and mental health benefits, along with the personal growth, resulting from mentorship. Participants also shared factors that influenced the mentoring relationship.

Theme 1: Transitioning Through the Uncertainty of University Life

Everything Is New. Most participants perceived course content and teaching styles to be new, compared with previous educational experiences, especially for out-of-province students who felt their learning curve was steeper than that of their peers. The university environment was competitive, with one participant describing how courses with medical students resulted in feelings of self-doubt: “Am I good enough to be in that class with them?” Participants highlighted the lack of friends as they entered university and described difficulty forming friendships due to large class sizes and minimal time for interaction.

Varying Concerns Across Academic Years. Out-of-province students found their first academic year isolating due to an absence of an established social support system, as many were living away from their families. Those who transitioned from college to university described the first year as a “fear of the unknown” without an understanding of how to manage course workloads. The second year was described as stressful because participants were interacting with patients for the first time, were afraid of making errors, and needed to apply theory to practice in their first clinical rotation. Students in the last year worried about their future and ability to find a job.

Theme 2: Motivation to Join the Program

Wanting a Heads Up. Participants joined the NPMP to gain advanced information from mentors about the nursing program, courses, examination material, required textbooks, and study strategies to improve grades and manage time. Mentors were described as individuals who provided guidance and referral to appropriate resources to reduce feelings of academic stress and uncertainty and to provide insight into social opportunities of university life. Peer mentors were seen as individuals who had lived through similar experiences and thus were more relatable and often preferred over professors and nurses as mentors. In addition, participants perceived mentors as a trustworthy source of information because mentors were more aware of current realities. Peer mentorship was seen as a nonthreatening and nonhierarchical relationship, in which participants felt less intimidated.

Peer Mentorship Offers Security. Participants felt comforted with the knowledge that they could have support from a mentor. Mentors were perceived to be a readily available source of information and guidance: “Mentoring just sounded…like [a] rock. You know that you can get into university…know[ing] one person…like a little bit of security and…support going into something totally new.” Students felt that a mentor could provide support through active listening and debriefing after difficult academic or personal challenges.

Theme 3: Helpful Mentor Behaviors

Being a Resource. Participants described their mentors as accessible and reliable sources of information and guidance. Participants highlighted the value of information related to course content, professors' teaching styles, study tips, and resources such as study groups. Mentors also tailored conversations to the participants' needs and interests and provided guidance about social activities and how to achieve academic and extracurricular goals.

Offering Emotional Support. Participants described that mentors adopted strategies, including providing reassurance that “someone is there for me,” normalizing the nursing student experience, and offering emotional support to meet the mentees' needs. One participant realized that her challenges making friends were normal:

Getting into nursing I knew nobody…a lot of people in university are like that [don't have any friends]…. [Her mentor remembered] coming in knowing no one and now [her] class is pretty close…. It gave me hope…if older students went through the same thing then I'm…not the only one.

Theme 4: Student Evolution and Transformation Through Mentorship

Adopting Strategies to Improve Academic Performance. Participants reported improved academic performance through learning new study habits and being able to better manage time. One participant spoke about the impact of mentorship on clinical performance, related to decreased stress: “I would…wake up at three am, then at [4:00 am], then at [5:00 am].... [Mentorship] really helped me decrease my stress…which…made me perform better.”

Becoming Part of a Nursing Community. Participants stated that their mentors created opportunities to meet people and increase their involvement in nursing social activities, although some did not mention a change. One participant described how her social network grew within the nursing program: “We're a nursing community…because of the NPMP.”

Supporting Mental Health and Well-Being. Participants spoke about the role their mentor had in their physical and mental health. Participants discussed the creation of a relaxed, safe, and supportive environment within their relationships that allowed for decreased stress, with one participant even saying that “last year was the first year that I did not need to use counselling [services] at all…. [Mentorship] replaced it…. It gave me that space to talk.”

Reinforcing Passion for Nursing. Participants described that the mentor facilitated discussions about career and academic goals, but were often focussed on clinical and externship topics, rather than professional nursing issues. One participant reported that discussions with her mentor reinforced her feelings about nursing: “Hearing she's really passionate about the program… really reinforce[d] my passion [for nursing]…it makes me love it even more.”

Developing Self-Awareness and Maturity. Participants spoke about how they evolved as professional nursing students through forming relationships with nursing peers, becoming involved in university life and nursing activities, and maturing and gaining independence (e.g., living on their own). However, peer mentorship also contributed to participants' personal and professional growth, as evidenced by their decision to become mentors to give back.

Theme 5: Factors Influencing Mentorship

Fit Between the Mentor and Mentee. Elements that facilitated the growth of the relationship and fit within dyads included similarities in age, gender, country of origin, background in education, language, personality, interests, career goals, role beliefs, preference for method of communication, and scheduling. Participants believed that a pairing system, based on preferences of the above criteria, could facilitate meaningful connections and could improve fit within dyads. One participant felt that ongoing discussions between mentors and mentees, where goals and expectations would be clarified throughout the semester, could improve the fit within dyads. Finally, fit within dyads was influenced by participants' readiness for discussions with the mentor, with priorities of passing their courses limiting career discussions.

Program Strengths and Challenges. Many participants highlighted program strengths, such as the absence of strict guidelines on mentoring relationships, as most preferred to determine mentoring interactions based on perceived needs: “Mentors and…mentees [need to] decide how they want to interact…. If [they] force things, I would have felt pressured.” Nonmandatory attendance for program workshops and activities was equally important as participants wanted to have the decision-making power to determine whether it was necessary to attend.

Participants appreciated NPMP activities that clarified the roles and responsibilities of each member of the dyad and that facilitated opportunities for learning and expansion of their social network. Program challenges highlighted by participants included NPMP expansion in terms of number of applicants and the potential lack of resources (e.g., funds, personnel, designated space to meet) to meet the needs of students.

Discussion

Developers of nurse peer mentorship programs, such as the NPMP created at the current institution, have a role in creating a foundation for successful mentoring relationships through a tailored mentor–mentee matching process. Researchers have recommended the matching process be tailored based on similarities (Chao, 2009; Lockwood, 2006). Although some participants concurred with recommendations for similarities-based matching, overall this study's findings highlighted the importance of a matching process based on individual preferences. Tailoring to individual preferences during the pairing process may facilitate mentees' adoption of an active role in defining their own mentoring experiences, which may encompass a preference for a mentor with similar or vastly different experiences than their own. Other researchers have also recognized that preference-based matching can strengthen and enhance mentoring relationships (Soklaridis et al., 2015; Yamada, Slanetz, & Boiselle, 2014). Similarly, Sidani and Braden (2011) described the importance of tailoring interventions to the unique needs and preferences of individuals to increase the relevance of interventions offered and ultimately improving outcomes.

In terms of program structure, researchers have recommended establishing a program based on standardized guidelines, including descriptions of the roles and responsibilities of mentees and mentors and frequency of mentoring (Botma et al., 2013; Zentz, Kurtz, & Alverson, 2014). Our findings highlighted that mentees valued the absence of strict guidelines on mentoring relationships and program participation, which allowed each individual the autonomy and flexibility to attend activities and negotiate mentoring relationships according to their diverse needs and competing priorities.

The mentees' ability to create meaningful relationships with their mentors sets a platform for professional development. The helpful behaviors modeled by mentors, such as active listening and provision of support, are important professional competencies that can be learned, developed, and adopted by mentees in the context of positive, nonthreatening social interactions (Christiansen & Bell, 2010; Demir, Demir, Bulut, & Hisar, 2014). Contrary to existing research, which has focused mainly on the mentor's desire to help others (Hunt & Ellison, 2010; Price & Balough, 2001), findings from the current study showcased how the cultivation of a positive mentoring relationship fosters an environment of mentees' giving back, as showcased by study participants becoming NPMP mentors as well.

Despite the benefits of the NPMP, participants discussed program challenges, including program growth, inadequate funding, lack of spaces to gather, and lack of dedicated personnel to coordinate the program. Other researchers have reported similar challenges implementing their undergraduate nursing mentorship programs and have highlighted the importance of organizational support and adequate resources to better support students (Dorsey & Baker, 2004; Scott, 2005). Thus, ongoing evaluation is needed to provide additional information for program improvement that may enhance nursing students' university experience, quality of learning, and educational successes.

Limitations and Future Directions

All participants had transitioned to a mentor role at the time of the study, which may have changed their perceptions. In addition, the interviews were conducted 6 months after the participants' involvement as mentees in the NPMP; therefore, the timing could have affected the participants' perceptions, as the program was evolving as the interviews occurred. Future research is needed to overcome these limitations and incorporate the perceptions of other stakeholders to gain a broader understanding of the impact of the NPMP, including the short- and long-term outcomes for nursing students in the academic and clinical settings. Future research should be conducted to determine whether involvement in an NPMP influenced mentees' transition to the nursing profession, impacted professional competencies, and led to transfer of affected behaviors in practice, compared with individuals who had not participated in an NPMP.

Conclusion

The current study provided a deeper understanding of nursing students' concerns during their academic career and enhanced insight into the range of beneficial outcomes that may occur by participating in the NPMP, including academic, social, mental health, and personal and professional growth. Study findings support the need for broader and scaled-up evaluation of the NPMP and may be used to inform educational leaders to improve the mentorship support available for nursing students. Specifically, recommendations for enhancing the NPMP include developing a pairing process based on mentee preferences, promoting voluntary participation in workshops and activities, and ensuring adequate organizational support and resources to optimize mentoring outcomes.

References

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NPMP Questionnaire

Are you filling this questionnaire as a mentor or mentee?
1. Name:Date:
2. Age:
3. Gender:MaleFemalePrefer not to specify
4. Circle your stream of study: (*Refer to table below for definition of terms)
Bachelor of Science (Nursing) Program- BScN
Bachelor of Nursing (Integrated) Program- BNI
Master of Science (Applied) in Nursing (Direct Entry)- MSc DE
5. Circle your Year of study: (*Refer to table below for definition of terms)
BScN U0BScN U1BScN U2BScN U3Graduation Year:
BNI U2BNI U3Graduation Year:
MSc QYMSc Year 1MSc Year 2Graduation Year:
6. Country you were born in:
7. Immigrated to current country in: (Answer only if applicable): Year:NA:
8. Moved to current city to study in: (Answer only if applicable): Year:NA:
9. Moved to current city from: (Answer only if applicable):  Year:NA:
10. Have been in current city since:
11. Circle your present living arrangement:
Living in residenceLiving aloneLiving with familyLiving with friend(s)
12. Travels you have done:
13. Work experience:
14. Volunteer experience:
15. If you have a previous degree, what is it in?
16. If you transferred into Nursing, what were you studying before?
17. Circle preferred method of communication with my mentor/mentee by:
Meeting in person
Texting
Emailing
Calling
Other:_________________________________________
18. What are some of your hobbies you enjoy doing?
19. What are some of your activities that you enjoy doing?
20. Where did you attend high school?
21. What did you graduate from in high school?
22. What are your expectations of your mentor/mentee?
23. You would like your mentor/mentee to be of the same gender as you:
YesNoNo preference
24. List three fun facts about yourself:
1.
2.
3.
25. What are some of your strengths/challenges?
Definition of Terms
Program of StudyDefinition
Bachelor of Science (Nursing) Program- BScN

For applicants without previous nursing collegial studies from high school or college

Students from an out of province high school require completing a qualifying year (U0) prior to entering the undergraduate nursing program

Students from a local college can be admitted directly to the three year undergraduate nursing program, referred to as U1, U2, and U3 respectively

Bachelor of Nursing (Integrated) Program- BNI

Applicants who have completed a three-year nursing program in a recognized college nursing program and wanted to pursue university studies

The program includes two years of undergraduate nursing studies, called U2 and U3 respectively

Master of Science (Applied) in Nursing (Direct Entry)-MSc DE

Applicants with a previous (non-nursing) bachelor degree in arts/science interested in pursuing graduate level studies in nursing

The program includes a qualifying year (QY), followed by a two year graduate program

Authors

Ms. Lombardo and Ms. Wong are is Nurse Clinicians, McGill University Health Center, Ms. Sanzone is Assistant Professor, Ms. Filion is Faculty Lecturer, and Dr. Tsimicalis is Assistant Professor, Ingram School of Nursing, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

The authors thank Drs. Margaret Purden, Antonia Arnaert, and Ariella Lang for their guidance throughout the research process. The authors also thank the Nursing Undergraduate Society class representatives for their contribution during the recruitment process.

Address correspondence to Lia Sanzone, MSc(A), RN, Assistant Professor, Ingram School of Nursing, McGill University, 3506 University Street, Room 409A, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2A7, Canada; e-mail: lia.sanzone@mcgill.ca.

Received: May 13, 2016
Accepted: November 28, 2016

10.3928/01484834-20170323-07

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