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Back from the Future: New Alumni Mentor Program helps prepare students for the workplace

Posted: Aug. 10, 2016

What if your future self could pay you a visit right now and alert you to the many wonderful opportunities you could experience in your lifetime — and warn you about the pitfalls.

Senior student nurses who took part in the inaugural Alumni Mentor Program

That’s more or less what happens to students at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing who sign up for the Alumni Mentor Program. The program, which the School’s Office of Student Services launched in fall 2015, matches nursing students designated as seniors with alumni who have gained a few years of experience as a nurse.

“Seniors face a lot of pressure as they begin to wind down their education and consider their many nursing career options. Are they looking for a hospital position? Do they want to begin in a specialty unit? Where do they want to live geographically? Which specific sites will provide the best opportunities to reach their professional goals?” said Carol Riazzi, assistant director, Clinical and Career Services. “It can be a difficult transition for them, but we believe this program will help smooth the way from classroom to clinical setting.”

Seniors have the chance to ask their mentor questions about particular jobs, gain knowledge about the workplace and learn about a specific organization or clinical setting. The alumni mentors provide a certain amount of career guidance and encouragement during the academic program, advice on important course and field work, as well as opportunities to make professional contacts.

Students aren’t the only ones to benefit from mentoring programs. Alumni get an opportunity to reconnect with their alma mater, often becoming more involved in activities that further promote and serve the university and themselves. Mentoring programs also provide alumni the opportunity to cultivate and recruit promising young people to their place of employment after graduation.

Some of this past year’s participants recently took time to discuss the program.

Brandy Couchot, BSN (2016): I learned a lot of tips regarding what to put on my résumé, how to study for the NCLEX, what it’s like to be a new nurse and how to work in a specific area/unit. For example, my nurse mentor worked on the pediatric coronary care unit (CCU) but was also a tracheostomy nurse educator. I was able to ask her questions about how she became involved in that role and how she enjoyed it. After hearing more about what a nurse educator does, I could see myself doing that in the future.

In addition, I was able to ask her questions about the CCU, how her unit differed from a med/surge or intensive care unit unit and why she decided not to work in other areas of the hospital. I also appreciated that my nurse mentor was currently practicing and had been doing so for three years. Because of this I took her suggestions seriously when planning my career path. I felt more comfortable making decisions about my future after receiving the advice and reassurance of someone who had been in my shoes before.

Student mentor

Stephen Sims, BSN (2012), RN, Cook Children’s Medical Center Fort Worth, Texas: I wanted to become a mentor because I had a friend who acted as one for me in my last year of nursing school. She was a huge blessing and helped reduce a lot of stress for me since I tend to overanalyze and stress over things too much. I wanted to do that for someone else. I have so much love for UT Austin and was honored that my alma mater reached out to me.

I wanted to make this transition from student nurse to real nurse as stress free as it could possibly be. Searching for your first big job, essentially starting your career, is such an overwhelming experience. On top of that, studying for boards while trying to make sure you don’t tank your GPA that last semester can be a bit daunting. I hoped that by sharing my methods of getting through that year and providing a little bit of encouragement would help my mentee relax and enjoy her time more.

Lindsey White, BSN (2016): From my mentor Stephen Sims I learned about nurse residency programs. He went through that program at Cook Children’s. After speaking with him, I knew it was what I wanted to pursue. The last semester of nursing school is a whirlwind: finishing up classes and preparing for future job opportunities. Honestly, I felt like I had “the inside scoop” from someone who had been through the transition from student nurse to RN within the past five years. My mentor was a great reminder of the opportunities I could look forward to after graduation as well as inspiration for goals to set for myself.

He also told me about his education and clinical experience as a student and gave advice about Capstone courses, writing résumés and applying for jobs, studying for the NCLEX, and just general tips for making the most of my final year on the 40 Acres. What I appreciated most was his sincere, genuine attitude. I could tell that he loves his career and cares about helping new nurses and fellow Longhorns grow into their careers. He even took time to talk to me on the phone before I submitted my first job application. I know nurses are very busy and was a little nervous about reaching out for advice at first. However, Stephen replied to every inquiry with great information and words of encouragement.

Stephen: Our e-mails transitioned from professional and almost business-like to as if I were writing to a friend. Lindsey and I both have a passion for running, so it was nice to talk about those experiences as well. I was so proud of her when I heard she lined up a job and again when she passed her NCLEX and received her credentials as an RN. It brought back similar moments and reminded me of how much of a relief that was. I know Lindsey will do great and will be an amazing nurse.

Brandy: Unless you are 100 percent set on what you want to do, request a mentor who works in an area of nursing you are interested in but not sure about. I was torn between three different unit areas: pediatrics, L&D, adult ER. I used my Capstone at UT Austin to explore the ER and the mentoring program to learn more about working in pediatrics. I am currently planning on working in a pediatric specialty and have made great connections with my nursing alumni mentor. I know I could always reach out to her if I needed to. I would encourage students to take advantage of this program and the knowledge they will gain from their mentor.

Nusing students at 2016 Career Fair event

Lindsey: I would encourage every rising senior who is interested to apply to the Alumni Mentor Program. If you are eager to broaden your perspective and gain insight into post-graduation life, this is the perfect program for you. The Student Services staff did an incredible job making sure that we had the best possible alumni mentor match. Their hard work in developing this program helped me gain confidence and provided me an incredible, inspiring nurse mentor to look up to. Today, I’m a proud Longhorn nurse, and I would love to be a mentor to a UT School of Nursing student one day. Hook ’em!

Any last words on building a successful nursing career?

Stephen: I define success as doing something you love: Waking up, going to work, and knowing that you made a difference in someone else’s life that day. No amount of money or degrees can give you that satisfaction. I look forward to going to my job and working with my team and caring for the children. Not everyone can say that about their job. I would like others to share their experiences and challenges and inspire someone. In return, you’ll be inspired yourself.

I would also like to say thanks to Carol Riazzi, Sherry Reddick, program coordinator, Clinical and Career Services, and Patty Prado, assistant director of Student Life at the UT Austin School of Nursing, for reaching out to me and for allowing me to feel like I was still connected to the university after graduation. My experience as a mentor reminded me of what I love about nursing: teaching. I love working with students, sharing my experience, teaching them something, and learning something from them in return. As a result, I have applied for graduate school and plan to obtain an MSN with an emphasis on education.

“It’s a great privilege to connect our students to recent alums who are excited to mentor and give back to the School of Nursing,” Prado said. “We are very fortunate to have alumni participation that provides a meaningful and positive impact on our students.”

“Clearly, the goal of mentoring is to help students gain the skills and confidence to explore their areas of interest. We want our mentors to act as advisers and professional guides to our seniors,” Reddick added. “After just one year, we are very excited about the AMP results and have found that the more help we give our students in transitioning from school to workplace, the better they’ll be as nurses and in providing great health care to their patients. You can’t hope for more than that!”

For more information about the Alumni Mentor Program, email Carol Riazzi or call her at 512-471-8563.

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