Jean Mau on mentorship and not “always” asking permission
Jean Mau, DNP, ACNS-BC, RN has been a nurse at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois for 45 years—the same institution where she first went to nursing school.
Mau will tell you how proud she is to have started out as a diploma graduate. She went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, followed by a doctorate in nursing practice. Mau also had the opportunity to serve as Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) rep on the Illinois Department Of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) Board of Nursing from 2013-2018.
A CAREER BUILT ON MENTORSHIP
Mau was one of the first nurses transitioned from her previous role, to one as an advanced practice nurse. “There was a group of about seven or eight of us,” says Mau. “We were mentored by our director, who was a visionary. She gave us excellent guidance.” Among that guidance? “She told us that sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness rather than permission. I have used that many times!”
Mau celebrates the mentors who have been there for her throughout her career—many of whom she keeps in touch with today. She pays it forward by mentoring the next generation of nurses, having served as a preceptor for beginning licensure up to the doctorate level. For the past eight years, she has also been a preceptor and mentor for a paramedic program.
Having been a mentor in ISAPN’s mentorship program since its inception, Mau is looking forward to re-launching the mentorship program. I also serve as a mentor with the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses (AAHFN), and have already connected with my year-long mentee match: “I am so excited that we’ve already connected,” she says. “I will be mentoring her on research, protocols, and education.”
One of the best parts about the mentor-mentee relationship is how much she learns, too. Once, while mentoring a new obstetrics APRN, she realized how difficult it was for an APRN to work for the same floor on which they had been a staff nurse. “That’s putting too much pressure on yourself,” she says. “Since then, I have encouraged people to think about moving to a different area. It’s hard learning and transitioning into your new advanced role; having to manage the process of earning the trust of your former coworkers for your new role can add complexity to being a new APRN.”
For Mau, the key to mentorship is being there to listen. “It’s important to be empathetic, not just sympathetic,” she says. “I let them talk: ask what they are seeing, feeling, and hearing—and then I provided them with resources.”
Sometimes, that resource involves sharing her own mistakes. “I let them know some of my bloopers, because they are learning experiences,” says Mau. “I also share advice from the mentors I had along the way”—including, yes, “ask forgiveness rather than permission.”
THE PATH OF A LIFE-LONG LEARNER
For Mau, one of the most important parts of both nursing and mentorship is being able to admit when you don’t know the answer. “You have to be comfortable saying, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you,’” she says. “We can’t know everything.”
But that never stopped her from trying. Mau has been a lifelong learner, continuing her education long after her degrees were framed. She earned her full practice authority shortly before retiring. Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she took courses on grief counseling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I look at how I can use the content of a course to better myself—to better equip the education, mentorship, and care that I provide others,” she says.
This care goes beyond the hospital, too. Recently, she has been helping her church with end-of-life care, visiting with members on hospice. While others shied away from end-of-life care, she embraced it. “I have the double background: representing the church, but also with my nursing experience,” says Mau. Mau saw first-hand, when she lost her parents, how important end-of-life care is—and how valuable a supportive team can be. “I saw the way nurses and physicians work together. It was a positive experience. I think God prepares you for different incidents in practice and in life, and if you feel comfortable, you can share those skills and experiences.”
ADVICE TO NEW NURSES
Mau’s mentorship has informed every step of her journey; every anecdote she tells is braided with advice to new nurses.
“Trust your gut,” she says. “Get the experiences that you can while you’re a student as well as when you have experts in your area available.”
When it comes to tough questions and difficult situations, Mau says it helps to have a network of people to turn to. “Utilize your resources. I know who my person for OB is, my person for orthopedics, my person for neuro,” says Mau. “When we work together, it makes the whole organization stronger.”
Mau encourages nurses to look outside their institution for networking, too. She calls back to Debbie Myers, who was previously featured on ISAPN: “We met at O’Hare on our way to a heart failure meeting, and we have stayed connected for all of these years,” says Mau. “It’s been phenomenal. She lives further downstate and practices in different areas, so we have a lot of nuances we can share.”
In fact, Mau recommends nurses find mentors outside of their area. “I recommend that it be outside of the practice setting where you work. I have had various mentors that I knew and connected with, even after they moved on to different positions.” She cites ISAPN as an important resource for building these connections between nurses across institutions—whether that be networking, mentorship, or continuing education.
Finally, Mau stresses how valuable the experiences of nurses are, no matter their degrees. “The letters behind your name don’t equate with the experience or qualities that you have—as a mentor, as a practitioner, or as a person.”