Identifying the barriers that minority nurses will face allows leaders and healthcare organizations to create more opportunities to groom them for leadership positions. Mentoring is a strategy used in many organizations to attract and retain individuals. In nursing and other professions, mentors influence the career path of their mentees by building relationships based on trust, respect, open communication, and ongoing dialogue. Mentors are often revered as advisors and honored as true friends. Minority nurse leaders who share stories of their journey claim that having a mentor was critical to their success.
Candor, compromise, confidence, complexity, and champion have been described as the competencies necessary to mentor a minority leader. Mentors must permit open conversation and be willing to provide honest feedback to mentees. Mentors may need to help their mentee understand circumstances in which compromise is necessary. This may also include managing the mentees' feelings of folding to organizational pressure or losing on issues important to their culture or race. Mentors preserve the mentee’s confidence and ensure integrity in all their interactions. This is particularly important in circumstances in which the minority leaders may feel like their individuality has not been considered. Mentors also help mentees navigate issues of workplace diversity that may be heavily charged. Most importantly, mentors support mentees and the issues that are of concern to them. They advocate for the mentee and seek out opportunities for the mentees' skills and talents to be recognized and assist them with progression within and outside of the organization.
These are examples of how the competencies of mentors should be used to develop minority nurse leaders. One of the great benefits of mentoring relationships is that the only cost is the time that it takes to connect or meet with one another. Sometimes these meetings can occur during lunch or during planned organizational events designed for networking or fellowship. Many times, these meetings are set up on an ongoing basis such as monthly or quarterly, and they can occur over the phone or through a web conference. Mentors and mentees can be very creative about finding ways to ensure that they continue to meet with one another and address the goals and concerns of the mentee.
Mentors of minority nurses should be aware of all available opportunities within the organization so that they can share them with their mentees. Such opportunities for leadership development and growth may include a clinical ladder program. Clinical ladder programs have existed for decades in nursing and are designed to recognize the expertise of bedside nurses in contributing to improving patient outcomes as they increase their nursing knowledge and skill.
Often, achieving milestones on the clinical ladder program means additional compensation for nurses, thus increasing their salary. In clinical ladder programs, nurses demonstrate the contributions that they have made to patients, their clinical unit, the organization, and the profession, and how they have developed professionally. Serving as the Co-Chair of a unit governance council, becoming a CPR instructor, obtaining certification in your nursing specialty, and presenting an improvement project at a meeting are some examples of contributions that may be considered in a clinical ladder program. These contributions are usually written up and provided to the Nurse Manager, then a review committee makes a determination about the nurse’s progression.
In addition to compensation, the nurse's title may change.
EXAMPLEA new graduate nurse may have the title of Registered Nurse Level One, and a nurse who has completed certain steps in the clinical ladder program may have the title of Registered Nurse Level Two.
Active participation in a clinical ladder program, or any similar professional development opportunity, increases nurse engagement and develops nursing leadership skills. Clinical nurse ladder programs can help develop a pool of minority nurse leaders who make significant contributions at the bedside and throughout a healthcare organization.
While clinical ladder programs require an individual to invest time in leadership development tasks and seek out experiences, the cost associated with clinical ladder programs is primarily covered by the nurse’s employer.
A third tool for minority nurse leader development is formal education. Underrepresented minority groups comprise over 30% of baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral nursing programs (Persaud, 2020). The IOM report calls for nurses to attain further education so they will be prepared to take on new roles that emerge with changing healthcare settings and delivery systems. A minority nurse may want to enhance their career plans with formal education, such as a master's or doctoral degree. Such education might serve the purpose of increasing one's clinical capabilities or accrediting them to educate other nurses, manage healthcare organizations, or conduct research in the field of nursing.
Formal education requires additional costs that are usually the responsibility of the nurse. Minority nurses seeking additional formal education should consider options to decrease the cost, such as employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement, graduate assistantships, university or professional association scholarships and grants, and loan forgiveness programs. While additional degrees do not guarantee advancement, their absence can hinder promotion because some leadership positions require graduate degrees. Ensuring that minority nurses can participate in mentoring relationships, engage in career development opportunities, and further their education can help develop a diverse cadre of nurse leaders.
Authored by Khaliah Fisher-Grace, PhD(c), MSN, RN, CPHQ, PCCN-K