Mentors Make a Difference for DNPs

Mary Francois DNP ’16 is no stranger to hard work and accomplishment. The program director of the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Service Line at UW Health had risen through the ranks from RN to a top leadership position in a large healthcare system. Yet despite her drive, intellect, and talent, she struggled to finish her scholarly project during the last semester of her DNP program.

The scholarly project is a DNP degree requirement that involves identifying a problem in practice, developing a solution based on scientific evidence, and then implementing that solution for sustainable, system-level change and improvement. It is a significant undertaking for all DNP students, and Francois, who was dealing with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and treatment at the same time, could not move her project forward on her own. Frustrated, she contemplated quitting the program.

That is when DNP Program Director Dr. Pam McGranahan and former instructor Andrea Williams connected Francois with Linda Procci ’72. Procci, a recently retired healthcare executive and member of the School of Nursing Board of Visitors, was looking for a new endeavor. She had benefitted from several mentor relationships over the course of her career, including valuable ones with Signe Skott Cooper, Joy Calkin, and Pat Lasky, who were on the faculty when she was a student. Procci was more than happy to help Francois.

The two met via phone and then worked together via Skype for the remainder of the semester. It was intense and time-consuming work, and it worked.

“Working with Linda kept me focused and guided me toward finishing,” Francois says. “I would not have finished my degree without Linda. There’s no way.”

Procci continued to mentor Francois as she transitioned into a new role at UW Health and now, still, when she encounters a new or unfamiliar situation. Procci turned to Cooper and Lasky throughout her career, and she is happy to serve as the same kind of sounding board for Francois. “If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to know what you don’t know and where to get the help you need to get your job done,” Procci says.

Clinical Professor Dr. Barb Pinekenstein studies the way mentor relationships form and how they influence careers. She says these relationships help nurse leaders progress in their careers, build resilience, and avoid burnout. To help DNP students and graduates identify and connect with potential mentors, Pinekenstein has helped coordinate a speed-networking event at the school for the past two years. Available mentors would meet with potential mentees over the course of an evening, and those pairs that forge a connection are encouraged to formalize and continue their relationship on their own.

Now Pinekenstein is taking the program online. The goal is to develop a cadre of available mentors that potential mentees can review and contact to establish a formal relationship. Procci and Francois were among the first nurse leaders to volunteer.

“E-mentoring is just as effective as face-to-face mentoring,” Pinekenstein says. “Either way, it is a very rewarding relationship for both.”


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