The importance of nurse mentorship


Dr. Joanne Clavelle wanted to be a nurse since she was young, driven by personal reasons. Her mother suffered from ulcerative colitis for many years, grappling with frequent complications that would require bed rest, during which Joanne would care for her younger brother. Her mother eventually received one of the first ileostomy surgeries performed in the United States, leading to her recovery.

Joanne’s early experiences at home led to her volunteering at a small hospital at the young age of 12, working as an EKG technician at 16 and, eventually, moving on to nursing school. “[My mother’s] disease and eventual recovery had a profound impact on my desire to care for others and restore health,” she says.

One way she’s managed to do just that is by looking out for those who were being overlooked. “When I was a nurse in the emergency room setting,” Joanne says, “many patients presented with conditions that could have been prevented, thus eliminating the need for emergency care. Observing this, I envisioned a new role: community outreach coordinator. For the next eight years, I led partnerships with schools, area agencies that dealt with aging and other organizations to create, implement and evaluate primary and secondary prevention programs designed to reduce ED visits and promote wellness.”

Joanne credits mentorship from peers and leaders she’s met throughout her career for giving her the encouragement and role modeling to succeed.

“I’m fortunate to have had many mentors along the way who listened to my ideas, provided suggestions on how to make my dreams a reality, and encouraged me to imagine ennobling possibilities,” she says.

“These inspirational leaders, who often served as ‘the wind beneath my wings,’ took time to listen, coach, and guide. They also served as role models for the mentoring of nurses I do today.”

Indeed, mentorship has been a driving force in Joanne’s career. When she was a CNO and doctoral student at Case Western Reserve University, she was intensely interested in transformational leadership practices. “My mentor suggested I pursue a yearlong practicum with the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Recognition Program,” she says. “There I created a model for a CNO network and conducted a research study titled ‘Transformational leadership practices of chief nursing officers in Magnet organizations.’ Had my mentor not encouraged me to take that path, I would not have thought of pursuing a national practicum experience. But I did, and it resulted in nursing leadership research that was disseminated internationally.”

Joanne’s experience with the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a doctoral student underscores the importance of mentorship not just for education, for both current and future career paths. During her time in the program, she worked with none other than GetWellNetwork Chief Clinical & Nursing Officer, Dr. Karen Drenkard. “My relationship with Karen (and her mentoring of me),” Joanne recalls, “eventually led to me to join GetWellNetwork three years ago.”

Because of successes like these, Joanne aims to give back by continually mentoring others: “I am committed to being a mentor and, at any given time, have a number of mentoring relationships underway,” she says. “In addition to coaching doctoral students on practice-focused research projects, I collaborate with nurses to present at professional conferences and co-author manuscripts, while continuing to coach and advise nursing students.”

This National Nurses Week, she encourages you to take the time to assess your own mentorship status. Is there a leader you can reach out to for guidance? Peers or others who might benefit from your expertise? Take the time to “listen, coach and guide,” as Joanne recommends. You’ll reap dividends from the experience.

And, according to the 2018 Nursing Special Report by Press Ganey, creating a better support system for nurses leads to a direct ROI in the form of better patient satisfaction. Mentorship has its rewards — for mentors, nurses and patients alike.