Author Note

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Mentoring Programs in Upper Midwest Baccalaureate Nursing Schools: Frequency, Characteristics, Implementation and Successes

Beth M. Hefel, Tressa B. Williamson,  and Jacqueline V. Hatlevig
Winona State University, Winona, Minnesota



The purpose of this project was to explore the frequency, characteristics and successes of mentoring programs in Upper Midwest baccalaureate nursing schools and to describe the development and implementation of a Junior-Senior nursing student mentoring program at Winona State University (WSU). This project was conducted by two honors students at WSU. Forty-one baccalaureate nursing school administrators in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska were asked about current or past student nurse mentoring programs at their institutions. Based on the 19 surveys returned (46%), 6 schools currently have a mentoring program in place and were able to describe its development, implementation, and key participants. Reports of the survey and an evaluation of the WSU mentoring program are provided. Results of this study suggest that mentoring programs that include ongoing communication, willing and committed participants, and a structured implementation program are the most successful.


Students entering a baccalaureate nursing program are eager to obtain anticipatory guidance regarding future course work and clinical experiences. Often their fears can be eased by the advice of graduate nurses, preceptors, or more advanced student nurses. This relationship between the more experienced professional (mentor) and the less experienced, aspiring person (mentee) is frequently referred to as mentoring (Clutterbuck, 1991). Through role modeling, guidance, and sponsorship, the mentor enhances the personal and professional development of the mentee.

Within nursing education and nursing as a whole, mentoring relationships are often formally arranged for a specific period of time. After the urging of student delegates in a 1996 convention of the National Student Nurses Association, mentoring was officially recognized when delegates passed a resolution in “support of the promotion, awareness, and development of mentorship programs” (Vance and Bamford, 1998, ¶ 2).

The purpose of the project reported here was to explore the frequency, characteristics and successes of mentoring programs in Upper Midwest baccalaureate nursing schools and to describe the development and implementation of a Junior-Senior nursing student mentoring program at Winona State University (WSU).


Using the list of American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) baccalaureate nursing programs, all of the baccalaureate programs in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska were chosen to receive the survey. The definition of mentoring used in the survey was a relationship between a more experienced professional (mentor) and a less experienced, aspiring person (mentee) (Clutterbuck, 1991).


Nineteen, or 46%, of the surveys were completed by baccalaureate school administrators and returned. One survey was thrown out because the description of the mentoring program was not consistent with the study’s definition of mentoring. Results of the surveys returned from nursing schools are reported in Table 1. Of the six schools with mentoring programs, all have received positive feedback from students, faculty, or other personnel.  For example, one school stated, “It’s been a very positive experience for both parties.”

Table 1:  Survey of Baccalaureate Nursing Schools


Baccalaureate school comments

Do you currently have a student mentoring program in place? 6-Yes
If yes:
      Who implemented the program?


       Why was the program implemented?
       (Some gave more than one response)


       How long has the program been in place?


4-Requests from students
3-Ideas from faculty
1-As a way to unify classes
1-To recruit and retain NSA

3-Up to two years
2-Six years or more

If no:
      Have you ever attempted a program?


      If so, why did the program end? (Some gave more
      than one response)

      If not, why has a program not been implemented?

4-No, but it is possible in the future

1-Difficult to start
1-Difficult to organize
1-Logistical problems
1-Change in faculty and philosophy

1-Idea has not been brought up
2-Not enough time
1-Not able to commit to time and
2-New program/too few students
1-Students are RNs in an RN-BSN

When asked who the mentoring programs involved and how the programs are conducted, all the administrators described that their mentoring programs were initiated by pairing an experienced nursing student with an underclassman. One administrator stated that “friendly relationships are established through the mentoring program and are followed through with mentoring class reunions.” A strategy to encourage participation involves giving course credit for participation in the mentoring program. An additional mentoring program strategy has upperclassmen come to the beginning days of clinical experiences to assist sophomores. The remaining schools noted that upperclassmen served primarily as resources to the underclassmen.

Administrators were then asked to describe the perceived successes of the mentoring program at their particular institution. Comments included: “Underclassmen feel like they belong more and [mentoring] develops great rapport,” “has helped the MSNA chapter on campus become more active,” and “upper class students provide time management and study ideas.” Other remarks referred to underclassmen having an opportunity to interact with advanced students and have questions answered. All of the administrators of the mentoring programs reported overall success. However, no formal student evaluations were reported.

For those mentoring programs currently in place, the perceived successes resemble those found within current mentoring research. It appears there is not one consistent way to implement a mentoring program in order for the program to be successful. Although all of the mentorship programs responding to our survey were structured as an upperclassman to underclassman mentoring relationship, school administrators described differing approaches to pair students with mentors, initiate mentoring programs, and involve faculty.

The results of this survey were used to establish a student-to-student mentoring program at Winona State University, where the researchers were current nursing students. In Spring 2003, the Winona State University nursing student mentoring program was implemented as a way to increase unity among nursing students and to provide junior students with a senior partner who could share his/her experiences. Seventy-five incoming junior students were randomly paired with 52 current junior students in April 2003. The soon-to-be seniors were encouraged to make the first contact and introduce themselves to the incoming junior students. The incoming juniors were encouraged to utilize their mentor for questions over the summer as needed. A social gathering was held in the fall of 2003 to allow the pairs of students to interact and meet. Further instruction was given to the students to contact each other as needed and to contact the researchers if problems arose.

The mentoring program at WSU was evaluated through student surveys in March 2004. Sixty-eight percent of the junior evaluations and 50% of the senior evaluations were returned. The results of the junior and senior nursing student evaluation surveys are reported in Table 2. The juniors were split when asked if they found their senior helpful or beneficial. Students commented that they had a “good resource,” “received more information overall,” “received direction for homework and scrubs,” “it was nice to know an older person,” and they felt “better prepared to apply for internships.” Other beneficial actions the juniors felt the seniors provided included: answering questions pertaining to class work, preparation for clinical experiences, providing encouragement and information on organizational skills, and providing an overview of the nursing program. The major beneficial action reported was the seniors taking time for the juniors. Those juniors who responded that their senior was not beneficial commented that they never contacted their senior mentor, did not talk to his or her mentor much, or did not know who the mentor was. The remaining answers were that, “the juniors knew of other seniors to ask” and “the senior didn’t make enough of an effort to contact” them.

Table 2:  Survey of Junior and Senior Nursing Students


Junior comments

Senior comments

Would you have used the mentor program your junior year, if it would have been available?

Not applicable



How often did you initiate contact? 


  1-Only at the very beginning of
     the program
16-A few times a year
  6-Every or every other week


 8-Only at the very beginning
    of the program
14-A few times this year
  4-Every or every other week

What types of things did you talk with your mentor about?

14-Getting ready for the nursing
      program (scrubs, classes,
      stethoscopes, etc.)

Not asked

What benefits, if any, do you think you received from the mentoring program?



17-Felt more welcomed/involved
      in the major

11-Felt more informed about
      nursing department activities

13-Felt more comfortable going
      into classes or working on

 8-Felt more involved in the
   nursing department
  2-Increased confidence in
   nursing information
16-Leadership experience

Would you like to see this program continue?


  1- No

The majority of juniors wanted the mentoring program to continue. Some students commented they would like to see the program continue, but see a need for improvements. The juniors reported that  they would feel the program is beneficial as long as the mentors are eager to participate. When asked what juniors expected from their mentor, comments included “providing a scholarly example,” “answering questions with honesty,” and acting “as a resource when asked.” In response to how seniors could prove to be more helpful to juniors, the majority of respondents suggested improved communication and increased initiative on the part of the seniors.

In response to a question as to what seniors gained from the mentoring experience, answers consisted of “an opportunity to share experiences and knowledge” and “a way to bring camaraderie to the junior and senior classes.” The responses implied a desire for an increased sense of leadership and responsibility. However, some students commented that the mentees never contacted their senior mentors, and juniors did not appear to want much help.

The most common suggestion for improving the mentoring program by both the juniors and seniors was to provide more opportunities for social interaction and optional and mandatory social gatherings for the students to interact.

The survey of the baccalaureate nursing schools in the upper Midwest was conducted to provide information that would facilitate the creation of a mentoring program at WSU. For those schools with mentoring programs, the overall success and positive feedback provided an additional incentive for the creation of a mentoring program.


The one year student evaluations provided helpful information for furthering the WSU mentoring program successes. The request for more social gatherings on the evaluation forms is consistent with the literature, which suggests that the mentor and mentee need regular contact with each other for the relationship to be successful.

Comments made by juniors and seniors on their evaluation forms suggested that both the mentor and mentee expected the other to initiate mentoring contacts and evaluated the success of the program by the amount of effort and involvement put forth by the other. The juniors seemed to expect the seniors to keep the communication lines open, while it appears that the seniors felt their role as mentors was mainly as a resource and they would be contacted when needed. Further clarification of expectations at the initiation of the mentor-mentee relationship and explanations of the mentor-mentee relationship may improve mentoring contacts.

Although many juniors claimed no benefit from the mentoring program, 76% would like to see the mentoring program continue. This result may suggest that although students believed there was a need for the program, they did not benefit from the current mentorship program. It is also interesting to note that the majority (88%) of seniors responded that they would have used the program had it been available to them and 96% responded that they would like to see the program continue.  These seniors may have also appreciated the need for a mentoring program, but may have questioned some of the implementation strategies of the current mentorship program.

The results of the survey were reported to the students and additional feedback was obtained. The Nursing Club elected officers agreed to adopt and implement the mentoring program for the next year. The managers’ role will be to initiate, orient and assign students; keep faculty and students informed about the mentoring program; organize social events for student interaction; and evaluate the program annually.


In summary, throughout the course of this study, information has been gained about the successes and failures of mentoring programs for nursing students. This information can be utilized to establish a foundation for mentoring programs. Data from research about the benefits of mentoring can further develop and strengthen the nursing profession. Nurses who engaged in mentoring programs as students will be more knowledgeable and skilled about mentoring peers in the workplace. With increased communication and leadership skills, graduate nurses will be better prepared when entering their new professional role. Although there is considerable research on mentoring relationships, further research is needed in order to build upon that body of knowledge and strengthen mentoring programs.


Clutterbuck, D. (1991). Everyone needs a mentor (2nd ed.). London: Institute of Personal Management.

Vance, C., & Bamford, P. (1998). Developing caring connections: Mentorship in the academic setting. Dean’s Notes: A Communications Service to Nursing School Deans, Administrators, and Faculty, 14(4).

Author Note

Beth M. Hefel, RN, BSN; Tressa B. Williamson, RN, BSN; Jacqueline V. Hatlevig, PhD, RNC. This study was conducted as an undergraduate Honors in Nursing project at Winona State University.

Beth M. Hefel is now practicing nursing at Mayo Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota; Tressa B. Williamson is now practicing nursing at Regions Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota; Jacqueline V. Hatlevig, Nursing Professor at Winona State University, was their honors project advisor.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to:

Beth M. Hefel
1909 Sandcherry Court NW
Rochester MN  55901

Additional contact information:

Tressa B. Williamson

Dr. Jacqueline V. Hatlevig

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