Mentors Changed My Career at Every Stage, From New Grad to Leader

May 28, 2021 by Rebecca Collins MS, RN, OCN®, CHPN, NE-BC, CENP

Oncology nursing is an immensely rewarding calling, but the emotional burdens and stressors can feel overwhelming. Office politics, career changes, and providing end-of-life care are difficult to navigate alone, but partnering with mentors helps nurses work through challenges and grow as leaders. As I look back on my career accomplishments, I can’t deny the influence from several mentors sprinkled throughout that trajectory. Each one gifted me with the insight to develop specific skills that enhanced my practice.

Rebecca Collins, MS, RN, OCN®, CHPN, NE-BC, CENP
Rebecca Collins, MS, RN, OCN®, CHPN, NE-BC, CENP

The One Who Came First

I started my nursing career on an oncology unit. Nursing school prepared me for a general role in health care, but the oncology specialty was a challenge all its own. I quickly became overwhelmed—that is, until a preceptor nurse provided insight from her own successes and missteps.

She taught me how to advocate for including patients as part of the medical team and offered herself as a resource for my many questions and needs as a new graduate nurse. She quickly became a mentor, one whom I still rely on and seek input from. She also inspired me to be just as helpful to today’s new graduate nurses. She was kind and meet me where I was at. She is a prime example of how every mentor should be: patient, supportive, and interested in helping mentees develop into the best nurse they can be.

The One Who Eased My Growing Pains

Career changes can be particularly challenging to navigate. When I transitioned to a new service line a few years later, I was nervous and hesitant, but my director of nursing championed the program and supported me through the process.

Importantly, she gave me a safe space for me to talk through my feelings. I always felt supported, and she prioritized my best interest and well-being. Honest conversations where I freely shared my concerns turned any perceived problems into an opportunity for growth. Trying something new was a challenge, but she never made me feel like a burden for needing some support while adjusting.

The One Who Challenged My Ego

My mentors have helped me through some tough times—but they haven’t been a “yes” person. On more than one occasion, my mentors have given me very honest and direct feedback. And the truth can sting a little, especially early on in my career, but my mentors’ honesty gave me the ability to accept that I am not perfect. No one is.

Not everything always works out the way we plan, and that’s okay. Learning to be open to advice, even when it’s hard to hear, has helped me have a clearer outlook and more ease in navigating difficult situations. It’s just as crucial to question our own approach and response to challenges as it is to offer constructive criticism to others.

The One Who Taught Me to Communicate

As I began my first leadership role, I would provide as much information as possible in my emails. That seemed like a good approach until I started sending emails that looked more like manuscript submissions. My supervisor gently intervened to mentor me on best practices for email communication. She never once made me feel foolish but just earnestly explained that, although my intentions were compassionate, my long emails were more of a hindrance than a help. I can still hear her now, reminding me, “Don’t chart in an email because anything over three sentences is at best a phone call and at worse too much explaining.”

That same mentor also coached me on effective listening. She instilled in me skills that greatly improved my writing and how I verbally communicate with patients and fellow providers.

The One Who Mapped Out My Goals

Discussing career aspirations with a supportive and trusted mentor has helped me focus on what I can bring to the table and what various opportunities can bring to my career. It’s provided a guide to map out my goals, helped me identify next steps when I started a new role, given me space to grieve after not getting a promotion, and inspired me to stay positive and continue looking ahead.

I’m grateful to have mentors who are open and honest about what they think is best for my career aspirations while also giving me the freedom to follow my gut.

Look back on the mentors who have supported you throughout your career and draw from their examples. If you don’t have a mentor, seek one out. My mentors have shaped who I am as a nurse, a leader, and a team player. One of the reasons you’re reading this article is because a nurse leader from the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing's writing mentorship program supported my writing.

Now, I am building on what my mentors have taught me and helping new nurses pursue their goals and strengthen their practice. Nursing has space for everyone, and mentorship is such a rewarding way to support our profession and foster a consistent and positive workforce.


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