Nurses are educators at heart. Effective teaching is foundational to delivering quality patient care and ensuring a successful transition of new nurses into clinical practice. However, academic nursing requires much more than simply teaching students the required knowledge to be great nurses. Academic nursing entails the knowledge of an educator (i.e., theories of learning, curriculum development, student development), the knowledge of a nurse educator (i.e., AACN Essentials, Quality and Safety Education for Nurses, NCLEX® content), and the knowledge of a clinical nurse (i.e., staying up-to-date on trends in current nursing care, new medical technologies, procedures, and products, the art of caring, skills needed for collaboration, communication, and clinical reasoning to keep up in a complex, ever-changing health care environment).
Academic nursing also calls for the advancement of nursing practice and education through involvement in research and scholarship, while simultaneously engaging in service to the nursing program, the university, the community, and the profession of nursing. Additionally, maintaining a clinical practice is a requirement for advanced practice registered nurses, and maintaining clinical competence is highly encouraged for academic nurses without advanced practice degrees. New faculty are underprepared for these challenging and competing demands (Daw et al., 2018; NLN, 2006). Adapting to academic culture and organizational structure can be overwhelming with resemblance to culture shock, which makes for a taxing transition from practice to academia for new faculty (Dunham-Taylor et al., 2008; Feldman et al., 2015; Gwyn, 2011; Nick et al., 2012). Given the existing nursing faculty shortage, the need to support new faculty in the transition from practice to academia is critical. One approach supported in the literature to ease this transition and promote retention of new faculty is mentoring (Campbell et al., 2017; Chung & Kowalski, 2012; Clochesy et al., 2019; Daw et al., 2018; Dunham-Taylor et al., 2008; Gwyn, 2011; Law et al., 2014; Miner, 2019; NLN, 2006; Nick et al., 2012; Sawatzky & Enns, 2009; Straus et al., 2013). This article will describe the development of a mentoring model, role-reversal mentoring, which builds on the strengths of peer mentoring in combination with mentoring from experienced faculty. In this model, new faculty developed an active way to create and develop informal mentoring opportunities.
Academic mentoring is an interactive process and traditionally takes the form of a vertical relationship, where a more experienced faculty member (the mentor) provides guidance and teaching to a less experienced faculty mentor (the mentee) (Curtin et al., 2016; Law et al., 2014). Mentoring can be formal or informal, as evidence indicates both increase faculty confidence, improve productivity, and increase new faculty retention (Nick et al., 2012). Formal mentoring is assigned, has clear constructed goals with associated time commitments and communication expectations (Fountain & Newcomer, 2016; Law, et al., 2014). The purpose may be to assist the mentee to transition into the full responsibilities of an academic role or it may focus on one aspect of the role, such as scholarship or teaching expectations. Informal mentoring emerges when a mentee finds a supportive guide in an experienced faculty member that does not necessarily fill the designated purpose of a formal mentoring relationship (Law et al., 2014). This arrangement may fulfill less structured needs of a mentee, such as serving as a sounding board for new ideas in the classroom or sharing wisdom about handling student performance concerns. Peer mentoring is a horizontal mentor relationship, often stemming from shared experiences in academic nursing. This relationship serves as a foundation of support to pool budding expertise, learn from one another's successes or shortcomings, discuss the inevitable issues that come with the new faculty career, and build upon experiences for future challenges (McBride et al., 2017).
Mentoring affords mentees both professional and personal benefits. Career outcomes of mentoring include clear understanding of organization operations and expectations, departmental socialization, assimilation to university culture, development of teaching and scholarly endeavors, and increased success with promotion and tenure (Gwyn, 2011; Law et al., 2014; NLN, 2006; Nick et al., 2012). Effective mentoring provides a supportive psychosocial environment that can ease the transition to academia, improve job satisfaction, and create a positive work–life balance (Clochesy et al., 2019; Miner, 2019; NLN, 2006, Nick et al., 2012; Sawatzky & Enns, 2009). Benefits of mentoring are experienced when there is reciprocity, mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connection, and shared values (Fountain & Newcomer, 2016; Straus et al., 2013).
Mentoring is often observed from the vantage point of benefits to the mentee, but mentoring also has many benefits for the mentors and the organization. For many experienced faculty, mentoring new faculty provides a sense of satisfaction in sharing accomplishments, challenges, successes, and knowledge with others. Involvement with mentorship can lead to career revitalization, exposure to new thoughts and ideas, higher rates of job satisfaction and accomplishment, and increased recognition as a leader and core component of a department (Fountain & Newcomer, 2016; Nick et al., 2012). Successful mentoring can build organizational capacity through retention of employees, increased collegiality and productivity, and development of effective teams and leaders (Daw et al., 2018; Dunham-Taylor et al., 2008; Feldman et al., 2015).
Yet, many characteristics of negative mentoring experiences exist, including poor communication, personality differences, differing expectations, and lack of commitment by either the mentor or mentee that obstruct successful outcomes for either party and may make the transition to academic nursing even more difficult (Straus et al., 2013). Specific to vertical mentoring, instances where administrators take the “arranged marriage” approach and pair mentors and mentees based on similar courses or equal dispersion of mentee assignments can often result in uncomfortable, nonproductive, or even resentful working relationships when failing to account for needs of the mentee, personality traits or support needed for mentors (Fountain & Newcomer, 2016; Law et al., 2014; Nick et al., 2012). New faculty members may fear appearing inept when struggling with the demands of academic nursing, which requires mentors to display interpersonal support characteristics that may not come natural to all. Negative mentoring characteristics specific to informal and peer mentoring include ambiguous roles and expectations, lack of confidentiality, unequal power distribution between mentor and mentee, and unfulfilled goals due to lack of defined structure (Bryant et al., 2015).
The NLN and other organizations recognize that various types of mentoring relationships are beneficial along the career continuum. Regardless of the form of mentoring, interaction with individuals who continually support, guide, teach, and challenge the individual is key (Law et al., 2014; NLN, 2006). Stanley and Clinton (1992) conceptualized the various types of mentoring as “the mentoring constellation.” In this model, four types of mentoring relationships are defined, and emphasis is placed on fluctuating mentoring needs across the course of a career. Role-reversal mentoring was developed by using two elements from the mentoring constellation, upward mentors and internal peer mentors, to create a modified approach to mentoring new undergraduate nursing faculty. In this model, the group modified the informal approach to mentoring in a purposeful, planned way.
Role-reversal mentoring was developed by “The Tenure Tribe,” a cohort of three new undergraduate, tenure-track faculty in the department of nursing. This group met first at university orientation for new faculty. Each member later recounted how “out of place” and “overwhelmed” they felt at the large gathering but how having someone there from their department helped to ease the anxiety. The close proximity of their offices, situated in a quiet back hallway, created another opportunity for connection. They would see each other in passing or stop to check in and ask questions. In these encounters, the power of the informal, nonjudgemental nature of peer mentoring was realized, as everyone felt free to share their struggles and insecurities, as well as their successes. Learning was occurring rapidly. Each new faculty member attended different activities and offerings on campus, joined separate committees, and had been assigned formal departmental mentors. In their moments of “checking in,” little bits of this experiential learning would be shared. From these moments of connection, the Tenure Tribe was born.
Internal Peer Mentoring Development
As the tribe grew in their relationship, casual peer mentoring transitioned to more planned and purposeful interactions. Weekly tribe meetings were scheduled for the purposes of venting, encouragement, and mutual sharing of learning. Although these were informal and often very raw, the members also made sure to honor the additional purpose of sharing information. For example, each member reported on what their committee was working on and discussed how it related to the departmental and university goals. In this manner, each member was able to gain a better understanding of the impetus of each committee. In discussing their challenges, they were able to offer support and encouragement and brainstorm solutions. This internal peer mentorship allowed the members an opportunity to be vulnerable and open to feedback.
Although the benefits of peer mentoring were experienced unanimously, the major limitation was lack of experience, which is noted in the literature as one drawback (Zellers et al., 2008). Each new faculty was already assigned a senior mentor but did not want to miss opportunities to learn from all faculty in various stages of their careers. In her support of informal mentoring, Gwyn (2011) suggested senior faculty should be encouraged to reach out to junior faculty to form informal dyads of mentoring. Role-reversal mentoring was a unique way to accelerate assimilation to the role of academic nurse and was developed to complement already established mentoring processes. The overall purposes of role-reversal mentoring were to learn from faculty members at all career stages and peer mentoring. In this model of mentoring, the Tenure Tribe flipped Gwyn's idea and instead reached out to senior faculty for informal mentoring.
Role-Reversal Mentoring Development
The tribe began to invite other nursing faculty to come to a tribe meeting. Being mindful of busy schedules, a 20- to 30-minute block of time was allotted for each meeting. The invite to faculty listed the purposes of the meeting: (a) to discuss their academic experiences, and (b) to become acquainted with all the faculty within the department. Meetings with other nursing faculty were scheduled approximately every 2 to 3 weeks based on faculty availability. A list of questions was developed to guide each meeting and to keep the meeting on track. Afterward, faculty were thanked for their time with a gift card and hand-written thank you note. Later, the group branched out to faculty from other departments.
Questions used to guide discussions with faculty during role-reversal mentoring sessions included:
- Please spend a few minutes to tell us a little bit about yourself as a person and nurse. Family? Passions? Hobbies? Clinical background?
- What have been some of the biggest challenges in your academic journey, and how have you overcome them?
- What is your number one suggestion for new faculty starting on this journey?
At the end of their first year, tribe members met to discuss anecdotal findings and debrief about the year. Notes had been carefully kept during peer mentoring as well as role-reversal mentoring meetings. Notes were reviewed and observations were discussed to identify themes with particular focus on impacts on the Tribe's first year as new faculty and impact on faculty invited to role-reversal mentoring meetings. The Tenure Tribe identified and unanimously agreed on several common themes.