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Developing the Next Generation of Nurse Leaders

The Staff Educator, January 5, 2010

It takes a special person to be a mentor, as being one requires time, energy, and commitment to the task.

"I became a mentor from a desire to see other people grow and develop and to assist them to do just that," says Barbara Brunt, MA, MN, RN-BC, NE-BC, director of nursing education and staff development at the Summa Health System in Akron, OH.

Brunt has been recognized nationally for her ability to mentor others. She is a recipient of the National Nursing Staff Development Organization's Outstanding Mentor Award, which was presented to her at the organization's annual conference in July 2009 in Philadelphia.

Her organization's mentor program is called Mentoring Aspiring Professionals (MAP). Before we discuss the components of MAP, it will be helpful to differentiate between a preceptor program and a mentor program. Some organizations use the terms interchangeably, which can become a real problem for the organization and employees.

Preceptor and mentor differences
There are some similarities between preceptors and mentors: Both must have a sincere desire to help their colleagues succeed, have a strong commitment to their organization and their colleagues, and have some training and education to be successful in these roles. However, the types of training and education required differ.

Preceptors need job expertise because their role is to accomplish specific, measurable tasks in a certain amount of time. The objective is usually to facilitate the successful orientation of people to their new job and role responsibilities. To do this, preceptors must comprehend and implement the principles of adult learning, evaluate orientees' job performance, and offer and receive constructive criticism.

The objective of a mentoring relationship is to facilitate professional growth and development. Mentors must also be leaders who are willing to help others advance in their chosen career path. Mentors must be knowledgeable about resources for such advancement and be able to act as objective sounding boards.

The preceptor relationship has a definite, fixed beginning and end, whereas the mentor relationship is more fluid. It is of indefinite length and has no clearly expected conclusion.

Authority is another important difference. Preceptors are authority figures who have input into the success or failure of orientees. Mentors function as facilitators who have no formal authority over those who are being mentored. Mentors work to help people realize their career potential. This type of relationship can be invaluable to an organization that wants to groom leaders who will contribute to organizational success. Such organizations establish a mentor program for the specific purpose of identifying employees who possess leadership potential and helping them to develop this potential.

Identifying future leaders
Summa Health System's MAP program is a "leadership development program for employees who possess leadership potential and want to prepare themselves to compete for management positions within the organization," says Brunt.

The program is open to employees from all departments, not just clinical areas. Those who want to be mentored (referred to as protégés) must make a formal application for acceptance into MAP. They must have been an employee for at least three consecutive years working full time or on a regular part-time basis. Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree or be enrolled in a bachelor's degree program. They must not have on file any disciplinary actions for the six months prior to application, and must not have received a rating of "needs improvement" or "does not meet some expectations" on their most recent performance evaluations.

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