Few of us become leaders without the help, shaping, and shielding of mentors, though we might not even recognize at times that we are being mentored--the gentle nudge or bit of advice from someone who has trodden the path before you that suddenly clears the way.
And the moment when a mentee stops on that path to turn and say thank you ... oh my. Words like "humbled" and "honored," a likely default in our otherwise speechless conditions (I have used both), cannot fully capture the feeling of awe or the appreciation for those who likewise mentored us.
Recently I was awarded the prestigious 2016 Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers by the Australian Museum. The only bragging you'll hear is that none of the previous five winners is a nurse, and being the first to represent our profession at anything is always nice.
OK, I'm absolutely thrilled. But the truth is that this award is really about my mentors and their mentors before, who passed down the uncommon wisdom that shaping the next generation is not just a duty but a privilege. I'm never going to be Bill Gates and have the money he has to give, but what I can give is my knowledge, skills, expertise, and support to create a generation that is going to make a difference. For in nurturing these bright people--especially nurses--you are touching, improving, or even saving lives that might not begin until you are dead 100 years. Just as rewarding? When your students take it upon themselves to mentor classmates.
What's the old line about nurses eating their young? At a time of nursing shortages and worrisome and expensive turnover rates at health care facilities everywhere in the world, it's time to squelch such nonsense once and for all. Mentoring and precepting, a type of seasoning and continuing education at the hospital or clinic, are essential to nursing in this day and age.
There's no more rewarding profession on earth than nursing, which is also gaining traction as a STEM field--for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM can be a way up for women and minorities, and men of course. But nursing takes a little getting used to. That's why it's so essential to begin the mentoring process on campus. And to start it or increase it right now.
As time has passed, those I've sought to mentor have become trusted collaborators, peers, and friends in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Middle East, and of course the United States and Australia. They have made a difference alongside me and perhaps even because of me. Creating nurse leaders is a part of my commitment to global equity in health care. In order to change the trajectory of health across all populations, I want to be able to show nurses what it means to be a leader and then help them discover what it will take to get there.
This is how, together, we will build the talented and resilient nurses who will take it from wherever we leave off. In the meantime, my humble advice:
Be a mentor. Change the world. Rinse and repeat.