Leading the Charge: Mentoring Student Nurses

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There are some people who, once they’ve found their way, go back and lead the way for others. Susan Maier Davis is one of those people. Davis, MS, RN, CRRN, graduated from the Wilkes University Nursing program in 1985, and in 2011 she joined the university’s mentoring program.

“What I love about my mentees is their excitement and passion,” she says. “I want to nurture that.”

Davis is senior vice president of operations at SMV Management Company. In this role, she travels to 23 states, working closely with tenants at 200 skilled nursing facilities and long-term care hospitals to ensure patient care is acceptable, regulatory reviews are satisfactory, and buildings are physically maintained.

Roots in the medical field

Davis grew up surrounded by physicians, and she knew she wanted to be a nurse ever since she was 8 years old. Her grandfather advised her to get a job in the medical field first to make sure it’s what she wanted to do. She obliged and worked as an assistant in a nursing home throughout high school and college.

When she graduated from nursing school, it was a challenging job market. Medicare had just shifted from payment by treatment to payment by diagnosis, and hospitals were scrambling to implement the new billing system. As a result, hiring was frozen. Davis persevered and found work four hours away as a rehabilitation nurse on the night shift at George Washington Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Her career took a pivotal turn in 1989, when she was hired as a nurse manager at HCR Manor Care. There she met Debbie Howe, a mentor who opened doors for her and who allowed her to have a more flexible schedule while Davis was attending graduate school. Later she met another mentor, Charlene McCoy (now Mayer), a visionary woman who challenged Davis with assignments to spur her professional growth. “She had the ability to identify skills I didn’t know I had,” says Davis. “She could see things I couldn’t see.”

Now when Davis is working with a protégée, she thinks about the stretch assignments that will best promote growth, just as McCoy did with her.

“If I can better prepare them, then that’s a great reward.”

The mentoring relationship at work

Her first mentee was Jessica Freedman. She helped Freedman prepare her resume and study for the boards. Freedman wanted to work at Cooper Health System in Camden, New Jersey, and Davis’ former college roommate, Dianne Charsha, is the chief nursing officer at Cooper. Davis introduced Freedman to Charsha, and she was hired as a nurse at Cooper. Davis sees similarities with the current job market and when she graduated from Wilkes in 1985.

“If I can better prepare them, then that’s a great reward,” she says.

Carly Cappello is another mentee. She graduated in 2013 and passed her boards the first time. Cappello relates that she was so excited to tell Davis she had passed her boards, and found out that a congratulations card was already in the mail from Davis. “She had such a strong faith in me that I would pass,” she says.

Their mentoring relationship has extended beyond nursing school. Now working in obstetrics, Cappello continues to ask Davis for career advice. When she was struggling to adjust to working on the night shift, Davis gave her tips to schedule her day and stay healthy. And when Cappello would come home from work exhausted during her first year of work, Davis would remind her that the “grass is not always greener,” and would encourage her to look at the positive aspects of being a nurse and helping people.

Inspired by Davis, Capello is pursuing a Wilkes master’s degree in nursing education.

Another mentoring success story

Gina Lemoncelli, a senior nursing student who also works part time as a nurse’s aide, is also one of Davis’ protégées. She says Davis helped her hone her resume and interviewing skills to get hired, and continues to help her in applying for nurse residency programs across the country.

Davis and Lemoncelli talk regularly and meet for dinner, opportunities that Lemoncelli values because no one in her family is in nursing, and she has plenty of questions about the field. She says Davis filled a necessary void because of her nursing knowledge and experience. “She knows the field, and she knows what’s out there,” says Lemoncelli. “She opened my horizons to all of the different aspects in what you can do with a nursing degree.”

Davis has mentored seven students to date.

“If you are lucky enough to find a mentor who is supportive and successful, hang on to them,” says Cappello.

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