Developing Successful Mentoring Relationships


Published: 07 October 2018

Successful mentoring relationships play a key role in ensuring nurses at all stages of their career feel competent and confident in their clinical and non-clinical abilities.

But first –

What is a Mentoring Relationship?

There are many ways to define the role of a mentor and it can often get confused with the practices of precepting and clinical supervision.  The definitions of the three are as follows:


This model is used mostly to foster student learning and involves teaching an individual a new or different clinical skill.

Precepting is focused on meeting specific learning objectives, and usually occurs within a certain time frame.  This not only ensures the individual learning is getting the support that they need, it also protects the public from inexperienced practitioners.

Clinical Supervision

Historically, clinical supervision has been more commonly associated with health disciplines such as social workers, psychologists and occupational therapists rather than nursing practice.

It can encompass features of both mentoring and precepting and can be described as a facilitated and in-depth reflection on one or more aspects of clinical practice.  It is ‘an exchange between practicing professionals to enable the development of professional skills’ (Chang & Daly 2012, pp. 309).


Mentoring differs from precepting as there is no evaluation process involved.  Mentoring can be described as an experienced professional nurturing and guiding the novice.

A mentor can be described as someone who facilitates another individual’s personal growth and development, doing so by having a positive and enabling relationship with the mentee (Chang & Daly 2012).

Benefits of Mentoring

Mentoring can have many benefits to nursing practice.

It can not only assist in providing individuals with smooth transitions during their careers, it can also improve nursing satisfaction.

From an organisational perspective it has also been found to improve the retention of nursing staff.

A mentoring relationship will also often broaden the mentees social and political network through career socialisation (Chang & Daly 2012; Rose & Best 2005).

What Makes an Effective Mentor?

It is important to note that a mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be a nurse. But they are usually someone who has either a professional or academic standing within their chosen field (Chang & Daly 2012; Rose & Best 2005).

With this in mind, the nurse educator can be a vital component in the mentoring relationship.  They can fit the role of a mentor, as well as be a support for the mentor and a role model for both the mentee and mentor.

An effective mentor should have certain qualities such as:

  • Intelligence;
  • Motivation;
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills;
  • Not be afraid to work hard or take risks;
  • Be open to new ways of doing things;
  • Be trustworthy and full of integrity;
  • Be professional;
  • Be willing to invest in their career;
  • To be curious; and
  • To have a vision for themselves as well as for the future of nursing.

These are all traits that are important in order to be both a supportive nurse educator and also a mentor (Chang & Daly 2012).

Keys to a Positive Mentoring Relationship

The mentoring relationship is one that is dynamic and should engage both participants.

It should revolve around supporting, coaching, listening, challenging and encouraging the mentee and the relationship should include the following qualities:

  • Open communication and accessibility with all participants
  • Clearly set goals and challenges
  • Passion and inspiration
  • Caring personal relationship
  • A relationship based on mutual respect and trust
  • Exchange of knowledge
  • Encourage both independence and collaboration
  • Involve role modeling

(Eller et al. 2014).

Formal and Informal Mentorship

A mentorship can be a formal and structured relationship or an informal process that has occurred naturally.

A formal mentoring program is one that will occur in conjunction with the organisation’s culture and aim. For example, it may be a mentor program involving inexperienced staff members.

An informal mentoring relationship can be described as ‘an alliance between two people, which creates a space for dialogue, resulting in their reflection, action and learning’.

It is important to remember that both types of mentoring can be used in different circumstances and be just as beneficial to all participants involved (Chang & Daly 2012, pp. 311).

Developing Successful Mentoring Relationships

Starting a Mentoring Relationship

When starting a mentoring relationship, it is important to discuss how both participants see the relationship working as well as what both of their expectations are.

This involves discussion on the frequency of each meeting, making sure all participants are able to contact each other, as well as determining what the focus of the mentoring relationship is (Chang & Daly 2012).

How Long Should a Mentoring Relationship Last?

There will also often not be a time limit on the relationship.

Rather, the duration will be determined by the needs of those involved and will often be longer than the relationship of a clinical supervisor or preceptor.

Nurse Educators and the Mentoring Relationship

As mentioned, the nurse educator can be a mentor to others as well as support their colleagues in their role as a mentor.

Just as mentees need support and guidance, mentors may also need support and guidance, especially if they are new to this role.

Nurse educators can be a positive role model and peer mentor for those undertaking this role. They can support both the learning of the junior staff as well as model professional behaviors to both mentor and mentee.

It is important to note that role modeling has been found to increase student satisfaction in both clinical and university settings, and often it is the nurse educators who are found to be role models for undergraduate nurses (Jack et al. 2017).

Common Challenges

Mentoring relationships can also present challenges.

These can often stem from:

  • A lack of communication;
  • Time constraints;
  • Poor preparation of both the mentor and mentee; and
  • Organisational constraints.

Other challenges which may occur that can impact on the mentor relationship include common realities faced by nurses in the workplace such as:

  • Competing demands;
  • Heavy workloads;
  • Increased levels of acuity;
  • Rapid patient turnover;
  • Inadequate staffing levels;
  • Inexperienced staff;
  • Perceived lack of support for role development; and
  • Potential of minimal resources for professional development.

These issues can lead to the relationship between the two individuals being driven apart and can potentially be hurtful and discouraging. (Chang & Daly 2012; Rosenau et al. 2015).

To prevent the mentoring relationship from deteriorating, support is essential for both participants in the relationship with mentees additionally needing to be prepared to take responsibility for their learning.

Often this can be addressed during the preparation of the relationship to ensure the goal of the relationship is reached and the mentorship is successful (Chang & Daly 2012; McIntosh & Gidman 2013).




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Sally Moyle View profile
Sally Moyle is a rehabilitation nurse educator with Epworth HealthCare. She has completed her masters of nursing (clinical nursing and teaching) and has experience in many nursing sectors including rehabilitation, orthopaedic, neurosurgery, emergency, aged care and general surgery. Sally is passionate about education in nursing in order to produce the best nurses possible.