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NANNP Corner

The Importance of Mentorship

Bobby Bellflower, DNSc NNP-BC FAANP
NANNP Council Chair

A few days ago, I was asked to mentor a newly appointed, non-neonatal faculty member. The request was routine and expected, but it stimulated thoughts about the number of people I have mentored over the years and the number of mentors who have guided me through the years. We all have benefited from mentors throughout our careers as registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Mentors are more than coaches or guides within a profession. Mentors provide support, wisdom, and teaching and may have a lifelong impact (Reh, 2019). Most people need more than one mentor in their professional life, and I was blessed to have two of the best mentors ever! Not only did they help guide me in the right direction professionally, but they also encouraged me to take professional risks that provided amazing opportunities.

My first mentor was Dr. Sheldon Korones, one of the early neonatal physicians who helped establish the concept of specialized care for premature and ill newborns. In 1968, he established the Newborn Center in the John Gaston Hospital, a public hospital in Memphis, TN. He was in private practice as a pediatrician in Memphis but was appalled at the lack of care for ill and premature babies and their mothers, especially in the Black community. Dr. Korones convinced administrators they needed a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU); thus, in 1968, the only NICU in the area opened. For a while, it was the only NICU in the city. Dr. Korones was very active on the national level, establishing neonatology as a specialized practice to affirm that babies are not just "little" children.

My first job as a young nursing school graduate was in the Newborn Center. I have never worked in another area of nursing. Dr. Korones was the medical director there and very supportive of nursing. He often said well-educated and caring nurses made a difference in the outcomes of babies and their families. Dr. Korones knew each nurse in the NICU, and after I had been a nurse there for a year, Dr. Korones encouraged me to attend a new program the University of Tennessee (UT) was developing.

It was 1984, and though there were a few nurse clinician programs for neonatal around the country, they were all certificate programs. Dr. Korones felt that certificate programs took advantage of the nurse, and he wanted to start a master's program for neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs). The dean of the UT College of Nursing was Michael Carter, my second mentor. Dr. Carter and Dr. Korones developed a ground-breaking NNP program supported by professional studies and high-quality neonatal-specific courses taught by neonatologists.

In 1986, I graduated from UT with a master's in nursing, NNP specific. For more than 20 years, I worked as the lead NNP in the Newborn Center with Dr. Korones as my mentor and in the UT College of Nursing with Dr. Carter as my education mentor. Dr. Korones encouraged me to think outside of the box. Instead of physicians running some of the initial trials for cutting-edge treatment, such as inhaled nitric oxide, the NNPs participated in writing the grants, developing the protocols, and implementing the trials. NNPs were responsible for the trials and received appropriate credit. Dr. Korones mentored me for many years in the practical aspects of being an NNP, and he mentored me as a leader. In my first leadership position, it bothered me that I could not satisfy everyone. He gave me a great piece of advice that I will always remember and continue to use now. "If someone is not mad at you at least once a week, you are not doing your job," was his advice, meaning that you have to do what is right and guide people to understand that change is constant and vital.

After Dr. Korones retired in 2007, he sent me a letter once a month (he did not do email), and it often contained an article from The New York Times with specific paragraphs underlined. Although he died a few years ago, Dr. Korones continues to profoundly influence my life, personally and professionally. It was an unlikely mentorship and friendship between a very young nurse from Mississippi and a crusty New Yorker.

Dr. Carter, my second mentor, is an excellent champion for nurses, especially APRNs. As soon as UT developed a doctor of nursing science (DNSc) program, he called me and said, "You need to attend this program." He was my academic advisor because I was the only neonatal educator. He was my dissertation chair (along with Dr. Korones). Although Dr. Carter created a way for me to obtain my doctorate, he was awed by what NNPs do daily. He visited the NICU and was amazed that NNPs led the resuscitation team in the delivery room, taught the residents and fellows when and how to intubate, presented and made plans for patients, and put in lines. He was impressed by the thought and clinical reasoning that he observed, not the procedures.

Dr. Carter created opportunities for me that I am not sure I would have otherwise had. He held my current position before me and strongly recommended me for the job. He knows me well and continues to mentor me. We talk at least monthly and sometimes more often. His belief in me provided support when I needed it most. He continues to have a profound influence on me, personally and professionally.

Dr. Carter and Dr. Korones are giants in our profession and in my life. They both spent a lot of time and effort mentoring me. Without their investment in me and in our profession, life would look a lot different.

Do you have a mentor that has had an impact on your life? Do you let them know how grateful you are? Have you made the commitment to be a mentor for someone? If not, consider mentoring someone. It changes lives!

Reh, F. J. (2019, August 14). A Guide to Understanding the Role of a Mentor. The Balance Careers. 

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