Mentoring in essence is the relationship between two individuals designed to achieve personal and professional growth. In the early career stage, a supportive relationship can be critical to assisting early career nurses (ECN) to consolidate knowledge and practice required of a registered nurse. There is evidence that many ECNs struggle during their early years of practice and this may be associated with increasing numbers of ECNs who leave the profession.
Using a Grounded Theory methodology, this study explored the concept of mentoring in ECNs. In particular the study explored what types and level of support was provided, how ECNs identified potential mentors and the ways in which mentors were used to support and develop practice. Eight ECNs were interviewed using semi structured interview techniques. Grounded theory methods were applied throughout the study, including constant comparative analysis. Categories developed included graduate feelings, ways of support, finding mentors, the mentor and the non-mentor.
The results suggest that formalised mentoring was rarely used; formalized supportive programs were uncommon and were perceived by participants as being unhelpful. In lieu of formalized mentoring or support, participants sort alternative ways to support themselves. This included finding their own mentors and using non- formal ways of supporting themselves in their graduate year.
One of the surprising elements to emerge was the role ECNS had in supporting each other. This may have been because they could not find an appropriate mentor, but ECNs perceived each other as an ideal support network because they shared experiences, solved problems together, debriefed and offered support particularly when other forms were unavailable.
Support for the ECN was sporadic and many of the participants struggled to find any level of support during their transition to practice. This was very distressing and challenging for some participants. Many participants felt abandoned by a system and felt alone and uncertain. This led those participants to seek support outside the workplace and some turned to friends and family for support.
The effect of a lack of support during the early stages of practice is not known but it is realistic to suggest that a lack support may affect knowledge and practice development. This in turn may affect professionalism and the ability to provide effective patient care.
While the support that ECNs provided to each other is certainly collegial and valuable –ECNs at a critical stage in their development must be supported through mentoring and other initiatives. It is clear that if we are to assist ECNs in their transition to practice, innovative strategies to supporting ECNs must be implemented in order to ensure professional and personal excellence.