E-mentoring a success for nursing students

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By Elaine Smith

A three-month pilot project to pair York University nursing graduate students with fourth-year nursing students for online mentoring has been a success, says Ruth Robbio, the assistant professor who led the project. 

Using an Academic Innovation Fund grant, in 2023, Robbio created a pilot mentoring initiative for fourth-year nursing students based on her own observations, research and knowledge of the profession – notably her doctoral work focused on e-mentoring for new nurses. She realized that the post-pandemic educational environment offered an excellent opportunity to use e-mentoring in a proactive way by providing support from experienced nurses for those entering the field. 

Ruth Robbio
Ruth Robbio

“New graduate nurses face difficulties in their transition to professional practice and many report being bullied in the workplace,” said Robbio. “This challenging transition to professional practice was compounded for nursing students during the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in limited academic supports and clinical placements, alongside nursing staff burnout – leading to some nurses leaving the profession. 

“Socialization through psychosocial support and mentoring are critical to facilitating entry to practice. However, traditional in-person mentoring may encounter barriers such as unsupportive work environments, lack of mentor access, heavy workloads, and location and distance constraints.” 

The pilot launched with the assistance of a team of colleagues that included co-principal investigator Mavoy Bertram; Teaching Commons educational developer Lisa Endersby, statistician Hugh McCague from the Institute for Social Research; Helen Brennagh from Learning Technology Services; Stephanie Quail, acting director of the Open Scholarship Department at York University Libraries; and research assistant Doina Nugent

Ruth Robbio and her team
Ruth Robbio (top row, centre) and her team.

After receiving ethics approval for the pilot project in January 2023, Robbio recruited both mentors and mentees through the nursing program at York. Ten practising nurses doing graduate work at York volunteered to serve as e-mentors and 10 fourth-year students in the collaborative nursing program expressed an interest in e-mentorship. The e-mentors posted their profiles online and the e-mentees indicated their top three choices, allowing Robbio to match them. 

Before the program started, the mentees completed a questionnaire to identify their sources of stress, and they noted academic, work and financial stresses as the most pressing. Both groups also completed a self-reflective questionnaire about their current mental well-being. Mentors were generally more satisfied than their mentee counterparts. 

Robbio and her team fashioned the three-month pilot around six online modules that participants could review and discuss, addressing topics such as goal setting, conflict management and career advice. The real focus of the program was check-ins every two weeks between e-mentors and e-mentees. The e-mentors were able to provide psychosocial support and opportunities for professional networking and career support.  

“Nursing is often viewed as a sink or swim culture when you begin working, so this program showed e-mentees how to prepare for their careers and encouraged them not to bottle up their frustrations and anxieties,” Robbio said.  

The project has been an unqualified success, with 75 per cent of the mentees saying afterward that they would stay in touch with their mentors. Meanwhile, 80 per cent of mentors found the program helpful to them as e-mentors and 100 per cent would either participate in the program again or recommend it to a friend. 

The e-mentees were grateful for the support along the way. “I have found that in the few conversations that I have had with my mentor, she has been able to encourage me with ideas and advice about my career path,” wrote one e-mentee. “We’ve been able to connect on our passion for public health and I’ve been able to focus on the journey that I would like to take in my career as a health-care professional.”  

E-mentors found satisfaction in assisting future colleagues, too.  “It was fulfilling to share my knowledge and provide career and resumé advice to the next generation of nurses,” one wrote. “Witnessing my mentee benefit from my experience made me proud to be part of such an impactful program.”   

“At such a volatile time in health care, it is rewarding knowing that you are providing support and guidance to the next generation of nurses,” wrote another mentor. “It is an experience that benefits the experienced nurse, not just the student.” 

Some consistent themes emerged from the project, based on the post-program satisfaction survey. Participants viewed e-mentoring as a reciprocal relationship and as a commitment that takes time and engagement. The program offered a support system and provided support beyond career mentoring, occasionally venturing into the personal realm. E-mentees highlighted such benefits as “having a person with more experience guide you through new challenges” and seeing “a more practical experience of what nursing is like outside of school.” 

E-mentors mentioned their new role as “a reminder of the benefit and importance of supporting new nurses entering the profession” and indicated the value of “being able to learn about how I would like to mentor versus how others would like to be mentored.” 

Their study findings were presented last year at the Teaching in Focus Conference at York University, at the 8th World Congress on Nursing & Health Care in London, U.K., and at the University of New Mexico Mentoring Institute Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., where their conference paper was published in The Chronicle of Mentoring & Coaching, the institute’s premier bimonthly online academic journal publication. 

Given the success of the pilot, Robbio is optimistic about its place in the nursing curriculum. She and her research colleagues are eager to share study findings with the School of Nursing leadership team to see if this program might be a good fit for existing leadership courses or as a stand-alone. 

“The program is very transferable to any area of study, but it is especially valuable in nursing because it’s not easy out there for new graduate nurses,” Robbio said. 

Thanks to this pilot project, mentees now know what to expect as they enter the workforce in 2024.