The peace of mind that students find when they realize they are not the first to struggle and they don’t have to face challenges alone is proof of a successful mentoring program. The art of peer mentoring, when practiced intentionally, changes lives for mentees and mentors alike, according to Benita Chatmon, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, Assistant Dean for Clinical Nursing Education and Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing, who created the Peer Mentoring program at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing.
“I have been studying mentoring for the past 10 years. I have found value in mentoring both personally and professionally, which is what piqued my interest in the subject,” Dr. Chatmon says.
Nursing students from underrepresented populations have shown the highest attrition rate in the undergraduate program at the School of Nursing. Challenged with creating programs to assist those students, Dr. Chatmon saw an opportunity to implement her passion for mentoring.
The Power of Peer Support
The primary goal of the Peer Mentoring program is to provide an opportunity for nursing students to gain support to assist with their academic and social transition into an educational health science center, according to Dr. Chatmon, who established the program with funding from her professorship and the support of her own peers. Dr. Chatmon currently runs the Peer Mentoring program with the assistance of Kendra Barrier, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing; Leanne Fowler, DNP, MBA, APRN, AGACNP-BC, CNE, Program Director of Nurse Practitioner Programs, Program Coordinator of the Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Concentration, and Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing ; Alison Davis, PhD, RN, CNE, CHSE, Director of the Nursing Skills and Technology Center, Director of the Nurse Educator Concentration, and Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing; and M. Dustin Pigg, Academic Success Coordinator.
The program seeks mentors who are personable, flexible, and considerate of the needs of new students. Mentors must carry at least a 2.5 GPA and have completed two or more semesters at the School of Nursing.
Mentors who volunteer for the program are paired with mentees based on similar demographics and life experiences. The mentor and mentee begin by establishing a partnership agreement that clarifies expectations, which they can customize based on specific goals. The pair is encouraged to begin with clear, realistic, measurable goals that they will refine as they go along.
“Objectives of the program include helping the mentee establish career and educational goals and fostering an environment that invites mentors and mentees to become active partners in learning experiences,” Dr. Chatmon says. There are currently 35 mentoring pairs active in the program.
Giving Back for What They’ve Gained
Mentors connect with mentees both academically and socially.
“My mentee has the same clinical instructor I had when I was in her position, which is something we’ve bonded over,” says Nathan Roberts, Traditional BSN Senior II. “I’ve been able to provide constructive feedback on how to handle stressful situations to her advantage.”
“Objectives of the program include helping the mentee establish career and educational goals and fostering an environment that invites mentors and mentees to become active partners in learning experiences.”
Benita Chatmon, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE
Roberts, who is treasurer of the Student Government Association Executive Board and Class Treasurer, is not unfamiliar with the benefits of mentoring. Through Sigma Theta Tau, Roberts is mentored by a faculty member who is teaching him how to effectively run a professional organization. The Peer Mentoring program gives him a chance to share his learning experiences with a new student.
“I highly recommend volunteering for the Peer Mentoring program to all experienced students because it gives you an opportunity to give back to the school by guiding the younger generation of students, providing them a safe space where they can ask questions,” Roberts says.
The Peer Mentoring program’s objective to provide consistent, reliable sources of support and inspiration resonates with Christina Hebert, a Traditional BSN Senior II and mentor in the program.
“One of the great benefits of being actively involved in school associations is that we are the first to see new initiatives aimed at helping students,” says Hebert, who serves as President of both the Student Nursing Association Executive Board and the Louisiana Association of Student Nurses.
“I remember coming here as a new student from another state. I relied heavily on the people around me, especially those in more senior classes,” Hebert says. “When the email about the new Peer Mentoring program came out, I signed up right away to repay what I received – in a less formal way – when I was a new student.”
The Rewards of Mentorship
Mentors draw from their advanced experience in nursing school to support and guide their peers who may be just starting on their journey toward a career in health care. But even mentors do not operate without support. A required 10-hour peer mentor training course provided by the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) sets them up for success.
The CRLA training course includes material and exercises focused on motivating mentees, professional ethics, establishing rapport and listening skills. CRLA is a nationally recognized professional development resource for higher education run by a group of student-oriented professionals active in the field of peer education at the college and adult level.
Mentors are also required to attend all scheduled Peer Mentoring activities and commit to at least three hours of contact time with their mentees each month. While the training and time commitment are necessary to be sure the Peer Mentoring program delivers promised supports to new students, mentors benefit from the experience as well.
“The instructions are laid out in a clear manner and the expectations of mentors are explicit from the start,” says Alexis Thibodeaux, Traditional BSN Senior II. “As a mentor in this program, I’ve improved my communication skills and gained confidence in myself.”
“There is no greater reward than to see someone who has placed their trust in you flourish,” Hebert says. “My role as a mentor continues to be a source of joy regardless of how many challenges are thrown my way, and it inspires me to get through some of the toughest moments in this incredibly rigorous academic program.”
“This program allows me to share everything I’ve learned in three years of nursing school, which is something I wish I had when I started here at LSUHSC-SON,” Roberts adds.