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Buddy Up: Nurse Mentors Boost Retention and Engagement

It’s a startling national statistic: 20.5 percent* of nurses leaving positions in 2018 had fewer than two years of service. With nursing shortages top of mind, that data point exposes a problem and an opportunity.

“We aren’t immune to the national nursing shortage and have several plans in place to recruit nurses, but retention is equally important,” said Pam Kayl, DNP, APRN-NP, division director of the Center of Clinical Practice, Clinical Education and Enterprise Staffing Pool. “We asked nurses, some working with us 45 days – others 45 years, what can we do to ensure success for our nurses who are just starting out? Mentoring was the resounding answer.”

The CHI Health Nurse Mentor Program is considered a win-win for both the mentor and mentee. Connecting an experienced nurse with a new hire for the first year of employment builds relationships that increase personal and professional satisfaction, strengthen commitments to our values and vision and improve care for patients and their families. Through trust, respect and effective communication, the one-on-one support helps new graduates smoothly transition beyond their residency.

“Nurse mentoring isn’t new, we’re just shining a light on all its rewarding benefits, including retention,” said Kayl. “We’re making it easier for our nurses to find ‘their person’ – that one peer they can rely on for career and life guidance.

Just knowing someone has been in your shoes and is now in your corner, can make all the difference; not just for reaching that five-year mark when turnover declines and commitment solidifies, but for life.

CHI Health nurses across the region share how being mentored and becoming a mentor shaped their careers:

Garnelle (Gigi) Call, BSN, RN - 29 years of nursing experience

CHI Health Richard Young Behavioral Health

“The experience that solidified my becoming a nurse was a car accident that my son was killed in. My daughter was in one hospital, my husband in one hospital and I in another as he was in the military. The nurses that were taking care of me in Palm Springs kept me informed of everything that was going on at Loma Linda with my daughter and at Camp Pendleton where my husband was. Nursing is so much more than health and diagnosis.”

Debra Cohen BSN, RN-C - 37 years of nursing experience

CHI Health Missouri Valley

“Working as a nursing assistant while attending nursing school, several wonderful nurses took me under their wing, gently leading me from novice to experienced. Now it’s my turn to be the mentor. I feel it’s vital for nurses to encourage, support and take care of each other to ensure the future of our profession.”

Cathy Schreier Ferguson, BSN, RN, CHPN, CCRN - 27 years of nursing experience

CHI Health St. Francis

“Every day brings new challenges, especially for a new nurse. After 20 years away from acute care, I returned to the bedside. During my orientation in CICU, I called on my charge nurse to assist me with a procedure. I could see she was very busy, but she put aside her duties and patiently walked me through the process. She made me feel like helping        me was more important than anything else. I felt so valued at that moment!”

Julia Pauley, RN, CEN - 36 years of nursing experience

CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center - Bergan Mercy

“I think the best thing I learned from my early nursing mentors was to just be kind and spend some time with each patient just learning something unique about them. I like to mentor the new nurses and encourage them to see the value of bedside nursing. I have discovered some fascinating people and amazing stories. We can teach anyone skills and they are important, but active listening and genuine communication is key to becoming a great nurse with happy patients and families.”

Barb Warner, RN, BSN - 25 years of nursing experience

CHI Health Mercy Council Bluffs

“When someone takes you under their wing, you feel comfortable to ask questions and learning is at its peak. My  mentor was a former combat zone nurse in Vietnam. She was patient and taught me how to prioritize and to think on my feet. The skills I try to pass down to new nurses are treat others as you would treat yourself or your family and critical thinking! Critical thinking can get you through the toughest of times.”

John Blum, BSN-BC - 30 years of nursing experience

Lasting Hope Recovery Center

“In today’s world, everything seems very rushed and I think many times we forget that we need to slow down and just  see people as people and not as an illness. I think as older nurses we can mentor the newer nurses on how to do this and also to take care of themselves. This, in turn, will not only make the job easier, but less stressful and will lead to greater retention and resiliency.”

Theresa Kosmicki, RN, CPAN - 39 years of nursing experience

CHI Health Lakeside

“My mentors were very nurturing and helpful. I always felt I could ask questions. They never made me feel inferior. That’s why I tell our next generation to never fear asking questions. We also talk about resiliency. It’s important to provide nurses with the tools to cope with the demands of the job and the wisdom of knowing that things will get better. Everything always changes.”

Candi Johnson, LPN - 17 years of nursing experience

CHI Health Plainview

“I worked with wonderful people who trained me and I feel like they mentored me along the first few years I was hired. They would explain things to me and I felt that I continually was learning as they would share their experiences with me. This was reassuring. I feel like we all need someone as a go-to person who will understand and not judge us when we are newer and may not know very many people we work with. We all invest a lot when a person is hired and it is important that we make them feel welcome and important to our facility.”

Marlys Kossman, RN - 36 years of nursing experience

CHI Health Good Samaritan

“A wise mentor once told me years ago to know your limits, always ask questions and respect your resources. We have  but a limited time before we pass their care to others, and our patients should always feel they are first with our time. Remember, there is change every day, you can and will learn something new each day, for without these you will not grow. Stop each day first and pray to God to use your hands, your heart and your mind to protect those in your care. These thoughts have always guided me, and as a mentor, I pass this on to others as they begin their journey.”

Danielle Burr, MSN, RN - 18 years of nursing experience

CHI Health Midlands

“I had the BEST mentor! We are actually still friends today. She would take me to coffee just to decompress and talk about how things were going. I remember her telling me to focus on the impact I was making. ‘Even bad days are worth it because you actually did something amazing for someone, even if you don’t realize it.’ She made me realize just how important I was and that bad days really aren’t that bad!”


Marlys Kossmans (Left) teaching a student nurse (Right) as part of the CHI Health Nurse Mentor Program.