Mentor program seeks to improve retention of nurses

The nation is so short of nurses that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 260,000 positions will be vacant in 2025 right when many of today's nursing graduates will be hitting full stride in their profession.

It doesn't help anything that half of those graduates will leave for other professions within two years after they complete nursing school. And each departure, hospital officials say, results in about $88,000 in recruitment and training costs.

Wendie Rains wants to slow that exodus from the profession, and she's got 110 helpers in northern Nevada.

Rains, coordinator of a community nurse mentoring program at Truckee Meadows Community College, matches experienced nurses as mentors for TMCC nursing students.

The most important task facing mentors, Rains says, is helping students prepare for the difficult transition from classroom portrayals of a perfect world with clear-cut outcomes to the messier real-life world of nursing.

"You get to the floor where you have six or eight patients, and you do the best you can but it's not the best," she says.

"It plays a huge role in retention."

Savannah Gonsalves, a TMCC nursing student, says her relationship with mentor Mary Lushina, a registered nurse and executive at Employers, a workers compensation carrier in Reno, has opened her eyes to a variety of career possibilities.

"There's a whole world out there for nurses besides direct patient care," says Gonsalves, who is completing the third semester of a four-semester nursing program at TMCC. "I've gotten a lot of insight about the profession."

About half the mentors who volunteer with the TMCC program are hospital nurses. The rest work elsewhere in the community care centers, physician offices, or executive positions.

Lushina, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Employers Occupational Health, has been a registered nurse for 25 years.

"I've had a lot of great mentors through my career, but it would have been nice to have a mentor early on," she says.

In their monthly meetings over lunch or at the Employers' corporate office, Gonsalves and Lushina talk about skills, stresses and the life of a nurse.

"We're becoming friends," Lushina says.

The benefits don't flow in only one direction.

"It's a renewal of the profession for me," says Lushina. "It gives me a refreshing perspective on the profession."

While Rains still doesn't have enough mentors to make one available to each of the 150 nursing students at TMCC, she says nursing professionals who've signed on are enthusiastic.

"Every single person who has agreed to be a mentor has done so out of a passion for nursing," she says.

Even a handful of retired nurses who recall the challenges of nursing school and the difficult transition for school to a nursing career are serving as mentors.

Mentors in the TMCC program are trained to listen effectively to students and learn how to support them non-judgementally.

The program launched in 2008 is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. It's still too early, Rains says, to measure its effectiveness in retention of newly graduated nurses.

But she says the Millennial generation that's beginning to come into the workforce is so social and so driven by desires for community connections that mentoring programs are likely to be successful.

And the stakes are high: Millennials, Rains says, are likely to leave the profession entirely rather than merely change jobs if they're unhappy after they graduate.

Lushina says mentors are well aware of the need to prepare a new generation of nurses.

"It's important for us to set them up for success," she says.


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