Mentorship Matters

For UF College of Nursing faculty, providing much-appreciated guidance to students throughout their nursing journey is a welcomed part of the job.

But thanks to a new program, college faculty now have a resource of their own to help them elevate their mentorship skills – as well as the next generation of Gator Nurse clinicians and researchers.

Created in Fall 2021, the College of Nursing Mentorship Academy helps nursing faculty enhance their skills in mentoring faculty and students at all levels in the areas of teaching, research, scholarship and service. Through a four-session training program, clinical and research faculty have the opportunity to learn techniques for creating and sustaining important relationships in higher education, including connections between senior faculty and junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students.

The program has officially graduated a total of 17 College of Nursing faculty after completing its third cohort session in December 2022.

Humble beginnings

According to the program’s initial founders, Associate Professor and Chair of the Biobehavioral Nursing Science Department, Ann Horgas, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, and the R. Murray and Annabel Davis Jenks Endowed Professor, Gail Keenan, PhD, RN, FAAN, who currently lead the academy along with Chamings Professor Angela Starkweather, PhD, ACNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN (who became a program leader after her arrival in 2021), the initiative was inspired by a similar professional development program started by the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Originally led by Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science Professor Roger Fillingim, PhD, its purpose was to promote excellent mentorship of graduate and post-doctoral students.

Gail Keenan, PhD, RN, FAAN, Ann Horgas, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, and Angela Starkweather PhD, ACNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN

The CTSI program was adopted and championed as a university-wide initiative by Associate Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs Chris Hass, PhD, to better prepare future researchers and scholars across all UF colleges for highly impactful careers.  Heeding the call to action, College of Nursing Dean and the Linda Harman Aiken Chair, Anna McDaniel,  PhD, RN, FAAN, tasked Horgas and Keenan with creating the College of Nursing’s own mentorship program. According to her, they were selected based upon their knowledge and experience with mentoring, as well as their previous participation in the CTSI program. 

Soon after, the College of Nursing became the first UF unit to create its own Mentorship Academy.

“Our College of Nursing faculty are true pioneers,” she said. “Their quick innovation has launched something incredibly special both college and university-wide — we are so proud to champion a new tradition of mentorship education that I hope will continue to endure for years to come.”

Idea exchange

Wanting to create a unique experience for all nurse educators, Horgas and Keenan started the nursing Mentorship Academy to include both clinical and research faculty. The unique research-clinical blend of the College of Nursing’s program originally began as a ‘test’ to set it apart from other UF colleges.

But for the leadership pair, mixing both types of faculty in their experiment has proven to be a complete success.

 “There is truly no one right way to be a mentor, but there are best practices” Horgas said. “Our goal is to help faculty learn from each other’s roles to see what may work best for them, depending on the situation. There is a different perspective to mentorship, depending on your role and who you are mentoring.”

According to Keenan, the College of Nursing Mentorship Academy has also inspired nursing faculty to step outside of their comfort zones. The academy also serves as a resource on how to navigate difficult mentorship situations, such as conflict, by teaching effective communication and leadership techniques to make faculty well-prepared to address the unexpected.

“Sometimes, mentoring relationships do not work out in the way both parties expect and matching the mentee to a more suitable mentor becomes the win-win goal to pursue” Keenan said. “We want to help faculty understand how they can remain honest and open with their mentees to address situations like this in ways that lead to better outcomes for everyone.”

A new perspective

For College of Nursing research faculty such as Assistant Professor Lakeshia Cousin, PhD, APRN, AGPCNP-BC, enrolling in the Mentorship Academy was a decision she will never grow to regret.

As a member of the Summer 2022 cohort, Cousin decided to participate in the academy to become a model mentor for her graduate students to follow.

But her favorite part about the experience? Getting the opportunity to look ‘inward’ and assess her communication style, as well as learn more about her own mentorship ability.

“The mentoring academy was an enlightening experience for me because I was able to self-evaluate my skills as a mentor.” she said “The course helped me understand different mentorship perspectives on both ends of the conversation.”

Through personality assessments, Cousin discovered her key personality traits and learned how to apply this knowledge to solve tough issues with her mentees in ways that felt the most comfortable to her. Guided activities with other nursing faculty allowed her to “flip the script” on the mentor-mentee relationship and act like a student for a session to better understand how her mentees would react to different mentoring approaches or communication styles.

Armed with more information about herself, as well as future Gator Nurse scientists, Cousin believes her time in the Mentorship Academy has laid the groundwork for becoming more skilled at developing relationships with the students she mentors.

“I want to establish a solid foundation of support with my mentees at the very beginning to help them,” Cousin said. “I’ve gained a new outlook on how mentors and mentees interact and I know that carrying this knowledge forward will help both me and my students work with one another better to achieve our goals.”

Building better mentors

As a clinical faculty member and practitioner, Clinical Assistant Professor Michaela Hogan, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC knew just how important clear instructions to students are when helping patients in need.

A member of the inaugural Mentorship Academy cohort, Hogan thought the program’s series of courses would help her communicate more effectively to her classes in high-stress situations. In just over a year, she has already noticed a significant change in her mentorship ability.

 “Since I have begun applying the skills I have learned into my teaching and mentorship, I have noticed increased confidence and satisfaction from others toward my mentoring,” she said. “I have also become more confident taking on more mentorship roles, including undergraduate and doctoral students, preceptors, and faculty.”

According to Hogan, the small group discussions on goal setting, ethics and professionalism helped her fully transition into a ‘problem-solver,’ ready to tackle any mentorship situation she might face.  By learning how her faculty peers approached specific circumstances, she was able to grow a closer connection with her colleagues, as well as integrate their teachings into how she thinks about mentorship.

“I’ve come a long way — this whole experience was a great learning opportunity that I will continue to apply in my mentoring roles,” she said.

The road ahead

In the future, the leaders hope to create a follow-up mentorship series for specific relationships, such as a class for learning the skills needed to effectively guide PhD or DNP students. The pair also hope to combine the program with new faculty orientation to get new members of the college up to speed, or even invite collaborators from other departments and disciplines to share their insights.

To them, the Mentorship Academy’s future looks brighter than ever before.

We are so proud to have paved a path for others to follow,” Keenan said. “The opportunity to learn from diverse minds has been wonderful and we are excited to see how the experience will shape generations of Gator Nurses.”

The next edition of the College of Nursing Mentorship Academy will begin March 20! Email Angela Starkweather by March 15, 2023 if you are interested!