The Role of Mentoring in Developing African American Nurse Leaders

Article excerpt

The primary purpose of this study was to explore the role of mentoring in the development of African American nurses who have achieved leadership positions in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs. This study also explored similar and dissimilar mentoring experiences in same-race versus cross-race mentoring relationships. The theoretical framework for this study was Levinson's adult developmental theory. A sequential mixed design was utilized. Forty-seven African American nurse leaders participated in Phase 1, and 10 of the 47 were interviewed in Phase 2. The findings showed that mentoring plays a role in the personal and professional development of African American nurse leaders in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs. Moreover, the relevance of race varies in both same-race and cross-race mentoring relationships.

Keywords: mentoring; African American nurse leaders; Levinson's adult developmental theory

Mentoring dates back to Homer's famous poem The Odyssey (Kram, 1985; Prestholdt, 1990; Ramsey, Thompson, & Brathwaite, 1994; Smith, McAllister, & Crawford, 2001). According to the poem, Mentor was the name of the trusted counselor who cared for Odysseus' son, Telemachus, while Odysseus was away from home. As a result of the caring and supportive environment that Mentor provided for Odysseus' son, the modern-day meaning of mentor has come to signify a wise and trusted teacher or counselor (Webster's Dictionary, 1995).

The term mentoring has been defined as ". . . a relationship between a young adult and an older, more experienced adult that helps the younger individual learn to navigate in the adult world and the world of work" (Kram, 1985, p. 2). Moreover, mentoring has been shown to be an effective strategy for career advancement in areas such as business, education, and nursing (Dreher & Cox, 1996; White, 1988; Zey, 1984).

While several authors in the nursing literature (Allen, 1998; Boyle & James, 1990; Dunham-Taylor, 2000; Shaffer, Tallarica, & Walsh, 2000; Vance, 1995) acknowledged the significance of mentoring relationships, it was difficult to determine if African American nurses were included in the studies. Demographic data provided from empirical nursing studies included age and gender, but omitted the race/ethnicity of the participants.

The profession of nursing has more than 2.7 million registered nurses (RN) nationwide (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). According to the 2000 National Survey of Registered Nurses, approximately 86% of the profession is White, with 13% comprised of the remaining racial/ethnic backgrounds (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Although African American nurses represent the largest percentage (4.9%) of all minority nurses (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001), they still lag behind in leadership positions (Schmieding, 2000). As Schmieding asserts:

Nurses in top-level leadership positions in government, health care organizations, advanced practice, nursing schools, and professional organizations formulate national policies, establish governmental and private research priorities, develop nursing education agendas, and formulate strategic plans for health care delivery. Most of these nurses are in positions to address diversity issues in health care and in research, as well as the shortage of minority nurses . . . and the shortage of minority nurse leaders. (p. 120)

Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the role of mentoring in the development of African American nurses who have achieved leadership positions in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs. Nurse leaders in higher education were selected because of their influence in addressing educational and policy issues pertinent to nurses. The findings from this study will provide research-based evidence on the effect of mentoring in the development of African American nurses who are in leadership positions in higher education and may inform initiatives to increase minority representation in the profession. …