Celebrating Mentors in the Year of the Nurse Educator

By: Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN

In celebrating 2022 as the Year of the Nurse Educator, I would like to begin by acknowledging a critical dynamic in nursing education: that of mentor–student. Which I might add, if successful, goes in both directions. Genuine mentors teach, guide, and inspire without reservation; engaged students give back by working hard to accomplish their goals and taking real pride in their achievements. The student eventually becomes the mentor. And so, the cycle comes full circle. I know it has in my case, and I will forever be indebted to my remarkable mentors and the generations that preceded them, back to nursing giants like Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole.

I have long credited my beloved great-grandmother, Ms. Addie, with starting me out on this journey. A natural homeopathic healer who helped raise me in rural Kentucky, she taught me the power of compassion and to embrace the purpose of caring for others. With six siblings of my own, I had enough reason to internalize that lesson! She also modeled how to truly listen, to tune in to what someone who comes to you for help understands and believes about their condition. That’s the power of empathy, learning to step into our patients’ shoes, seeing their health challenges from the perspective of their unique individual circumstances and their broader cultural context.

Since my childhood, I have carried my great-grandmother with me and heard her sweet, encouraging voice when I made the life-changing decision to become a nurse. Coming from the segregated South, I initially had modest ambitions. Just graduating college and having my own washer and dryer were simply what I had in my sights. But now, reflecting on my long, varied career, I know I have been incredibly fortunate to have had people who believed in me every step of the way and gave me faith to push myself farther than what I dreamed possible.

While I was studying for my master’s in psychiatric nursing, there were professors like Drs. Hildegard Peplau and Shirley Smoyak, mental health nurses, and clinical educators whom I considered valued mentors. The same held true when later I pursued my doctorate in clinical psychology. I looked to my own professors, psychiatrists, and psychologists in the field, who empowered me to take on an advanced specialty practice role in psychiatric nursing and to contribute to contemporary scholarship.

At a certain point, I realized that these stellar women in whom I had put so much trust deserved “payback.” I had developed the confidence that comes with experience, and it was time to “pay it forward.” It was finally my turn to be there to guide and inspire young people, and especially women of color, climbing the career ladder behind me. I did not go it alone, and neither should they.

Not only had my own mentors infused me with the knowledge and tools necessary to become a skilled clinician, they inspired me to become a nurse educator and instilled in me a calling to lead. Nowadays, the nursing world is in desperate need of leaders ready to collaborate on initiatives that nurture inclusivity, engagement, and cultural sensitivity within the nursing workforce. For most of us, we need look no further than our own pasts to see a clear path to the future. I urge you all to follow the lead and examples of the role models who lifted you up, and thereby hoist upon your shoulders the leaders of tomorrow in nursing education.

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