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My journey as a mentee and mentor

Christine Smith (L) with Sharmalie Wijesinghe (R)

An increasingly popular model, mentoring traditionally takes place outside the formal workplace setting and so is not constrained by workplace priorities or timeframes. Sharmalie Wijesinghe is Clinical Nurse Specialist at Cabrini Health Palliative Care. Here she describes her experience with a nurse mentor and taking up her own mentoring role. She encourages others to get involved, for their own benefit and the advancement of the profession.

I was a Montessori Teacher in Sri Lanka and had my own school. After my father’s death, I gave up teaching to study nursing. In 2004 I migrated to Australia with my husband, two young children and my mother. We struggled in the beginning as we adjusted to our new environment. Despite this, I was determined to be a great nurse.

As a mentee

When preparing to start my nursing studies, the responsibilities of becoming a Registered Nurse really scared me. I felt I needed a senior nurse to support and direct me through my nursing program. I approached Christine Smith FACN (DLF), my former teacher and tutor while studying the Diploma of Nursing at Australian Catholic University (ACU) and asked if she would be my mentor.

“It was more than 12 months after I had taught Sharmalie and I was surprised to receive her call”, recalls Christine. “I felt honored. I had no notion that 16 years later, I would be her mentor and a good friend. It was a proud occasion when I attended her graduation ceremony. A couple of years later, I was invited to attend the ceremony when she and her family became Australian citizens.”

Without the support from my mentor, my journey as a nurse would have been more difficult. Christine inspired me to be the person I am today. She has supported my development and taught me to be a preceptor and support students, junior and new staff who need guidance. I am very grateful to her.

During my last semester at ACU, Christine encouraged me to apply for the Inaugural Order of Malta, Palliative Care Excellence Award for nursing students. It was an honour to receive this award for excellence in 2010. Over several years, I received ongoing support in my role as a palliative care nurse from Sir James Gobbo, Former President, Order of Malta, Victoria.

Steps to a mentoring role

Nursing as a profession, has an important role to influence new members of the profession, actively identifying and developing leadership qualities in members with leadership potential and progressing their career.

Research highlights lack of training of senior nurses to become mentors (Sickley and Riley 2020) as one of the gaps in nursing mentorship. Support to develop mentors should be prioritised to address barriers to successful mentoring.

There are several ways the nursing profession develops leaders to influence and advance the profession.

  1. Performance review

Performance review in nursing is one method by which to determine how well a nurse demonstrates competence to the supervisor, on a yearly basis. It is generally accepted that performance review assists in determining an employee’s performance on the job, identifying personal strengths, and weaknesses for development, suitability for promotion and/or need for additional training (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation 2018).

  1. Preceptorship

A formal preceptor relationship, within a prescribed timeframe, helps to develop a nursing student on clinical placements/rotations or a new nurse employee taking on new responsibilities in their clinical role. An experienced nurse (preceptor) acts as a role model to the junior nurse, (the preceptee). The role includes providing guidance, learning experiences and developing confidence within the preceptee, in their prescribed role. An important function is to provide feedback on the application of new knowledge and skill development (Bartlett et al. 2020).

  1. Mentoring

An increasingly popular model, mentoring traditionally takes place outside the formal workplace setting. Mentoring can be defined as an ongoing professional relationship between an experienced nurse (mentor) and a less experienced nurse (mentee) that is directed to provide guidance, support and feedback based on the mentee’s goals, career direction, and timeframe for professional development. Being independent of the workplace setting the mentoring relationship is not constrained by workplace priorities or timeframes (Burgess, van Diggele and Mellis 2018).

Becoming a mentor

My positive experience as a mentee gave me confidence to apply these skills in my workplace. As a mentee and later as a clinical nurse specialist in palliative care, I witnessed junior staff members succeed within their role, in large part due to having been mentored by a senior nurse.

From my own experience, I would suggest that senior nurses may also benefit from a mentor program, when they face challenges in their roles. Through the mentor relationship, questions can be asked, and knowledge gaps reduced without fear of embarrassment or admission of weakness.

The value of having the support of an objective person who can see how the mentee is developing, what else is needed and the direction in which they should progress, cannot be overstated. A good mentor encourages the mentee to step out of their comfort zone, explore their capabilities and discover their hidden potential.

Final reflections

My experience as both a mentee and mentor has taught me that mentoring nurses at all levels is valuable and useful for the individual, the organisation and the profession. It enhances leadership skills, brings greater job satisfaction and improves staff retention. 

Having a mentor didn’t just help me to step forward to develop my career. Christine also helped me understand that professional challenges are stepping stones to opportunities for leadership development. I know I have many exciting career opportunities ahead.

Note: Australian College of Nursing members can learn more about mentorship by logging into neo on the website to view the recent Leadership COI webinars on mentoring.

If you are interested in mentoring opportunities or are looking for a mentor, contact Australian College of Nursing:


The above article is based on original text in The Hive, Issue #31, published by Australian College of Nursing.


Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation 2018, Guidelines for Performance Review, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal, Australia, Available at

Burgess, A., van Diggele, C. and Mellis, C., 2018, ‘Mentorship in the health professions: a review’ The clinical teacher, vol. 15, issue. 3, pp.197-202.

Stickley, K & Riley, E 2020, ‘Nursing Mentorship: What Defines a Good Mentor?’, Magazine, Edition 45.


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