AORN Blog - The Periop Life

How to Be an Effective Periop Nurse Mentor

A Conversation with Merideth Lewis, MSN, RN, CNOR


How to Be an Effective Periop Nurse Mentor

July 21, 2019   

Merideth will never forget her first mentor and professor, Dr. Laura Mahlmeister, who always kept Tic-Tacs in her pocket, drawing a smile every time Merideth heard her coming down the hall.

Merideth’s first rotation as a nursing student was in labor and delivery and first success in practice was swaddling a newborn. She was 19 and nervous handling a new baby, but Laura was right there and knew exactly what to say to encourage and give her the confidence to succeed.

Merideth shares with AORN how, 30 years later as a cardiac specialty OR nurse and mentor of new nurses, she thinks about Laura and the lesson learned: mentoring is an essential part of practicing the art and science of nursing for our patients.

Mentoring to Advance Patient Safety

Mentoring provides an important opportunity for knowledge transfer so we can “grow our own.” Through mentoring, we can train new nurses in the best clinical and patient-centered practices, which is truly the backbone of ensuring excellence is continued and is consistent.

Having a mentor helps new nurses connect the didactic knowledge base for skills and theory with the “softer,” more subtle nursing skills learned by observing an experienced nurse – and develop his or her own way of practicing perioperative nursing to truly connect with each patient.

My mentees have helped me just as much as I have helped them. Somedays a mentee challenges me with a tough practice question, and I have to go back to the guidelines to review—this keeps me humble and engaged to always be providing the latest in evidence-based care for my patients.

Refining your Mentoring Skills

Mentoring is not easy. It requires finding the right balance to teach and provide constructive criticism while giving encouragement, and every nurse is different.

Here are a few strategies I’ve learned along the way:

  • Focus on supporting progress goals—Begin the day by asking your mentee about their goals and how you can support them in achieving these goals.
  • Give them tools to work through a challenge—Teach them that when they are unsure or at a crossroads to ask themselves, “What will keep my patient at the center?”
  • Leverage your resources—I use a reflection log sheet from our Periop 101 program administrator to track my mentee’s progress in a standardized way and to ensure my mentoring approach is consistent.

Take time this year to attend an educational event with a colleague you mentor or are mentored by. It’s an effective way to demonstrate you’re engaged, and it gives you time away from the OR to bond and continue learning and inspiring each other.

Merideth Lewis, MSN, RN, CNOR is a perioperative specialty practice nurse at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, CA.