Nurses helping patients is inherent. But nurses helping new nurses also is vital in a demanding, stressful profession packed with responsibility.

Melissa Stafford and Elizabeth Mills, experienced nurses in the neurosurgical intensive care unit at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, are part of a growing movement to nurture and empower nurses launching into the career.

They work closely in person with new nurses. Mills and Stafford also reach out to nurses worldwide as fixtures on FreshRN, which combines blogs and podcasts on a variety of topics to help new nurses in their transition. It's the brainchild of Kati Kleber, a former Novant Health nurse who now lives in Illinois.

"Experienced nurses can really help new nurses by making them feel welcomed and showing them a lot of support," said Stafford, 41, who has been at Novant Health 18 years. "Being a nurse is very stressful and I think when they've finished nursing school and come into the reality of nursing, it can be very overwhelming."

Within the profession historically, nurses have been known for “eating their young,” slang for the bullying of new nurses who have yet to earn their stripes. Mills and Stafford are part of the concentrated movement to counter that.

Sharing mistakes

Stafford said it's important that veteran nurses not just "teach with words." Sharing personal examples from when they were new, including mistakes, often resonates. Looking back at the start of her career as a new nurse, Stafford recalls the day that she made a mistake that affected a patient.

melissa stafford
Melissa Stafford

"I went home in tears," she said. "I told myself `You're not ready for this.’"

Stafford reached out to older, experienced nurses. They embraced her dilemma, shared their own early mistakes and advised  her to learn from the miscue and move on.

"They didn't just say the words," Stafford said. "I didn't quit. I stuck it out, and not being isolated, or feeling alone or judged meant the world to me."

Nurses are Novant Health's largest segment

Mills, 39, has worked 16 years at Novant Health. She's among the 5,700 registered nurses in the healthcare system, more than 20 percent of Novant Health’s workforce.

Mills said it's important to be patient with new nurses."You want to be there as a mentor, coach and preceptor," she said. "You try to help them learn time management. To know I had experienced nurses there was great when I was new."

elizabeth mills
Elizabeth Mills

Mills said she tries to give new nurses room to experience and grow. The goal: Be there without smothering.

"They have to go through the critical thinking process," she said. "You want them to be like a bird in a tree, and let them spread their wings a little bit. You're guiding them and staying by them, helping them learn their way."

Helping the younger generation

Madison Grady, a second-year nurse at Novant Health, asked the typical new-person questions when she began. She said she continues to seek out the same nurses now for inquiries or another set of eyes.

madison grady
Madison Grady

"I never felt unwanted or mistreated because of my age," said Grady, 24. "The support means the world. Especially in the neurosurgical intensive care unit, we have to lean on each other a lot of the time."

David McHenry, 23, is also in his second year as a critical care nurse. Fresh from orientation, he recalled being assigned "1:1" with a patient, meaning constant presence in the room and continuous monitoring.

Worried that it may be too much for a newcomer, McHenry approached the charge nurse with his concern.

"That nurse told me, `I believe that you have what it takes to provide great care to this patient, and I know that, no matter what happens, this patient is in good hands.' From that moment on, I had the utmost faith in myself, and I never let my self-doubt get in the way of taking care of my patients."

david mchenry
David McHenry

Mills’ and Stafford’s passion for nursing and helping new teammates shine through on the FreshRn podcasts. The nurses share valuable tips and personal work experiences with their online audience. They’ve received positive feedback as far away as Australia.

Blending new and experienced

Kim Kiser, the neurosurgical intensive care unit nurse manager at Presbyterian Medical Center, said the newer nurses are groomed to think for themselves.

"We grow our new team members by asking them open-ended questions so they can critically think through the situation," said Kiser, 50, who has more than 25 years of nursing experience. "We guide and educate. We don’t give them answers."

kim kiser
Kim Kiser

She said experience mixes well with the positive energy the new nurses provide.

"They are brilliant, tech-savvy and willing," Kiser said. "They are very receptive to changes. What they don’t know, they research on their days off.  Some of them will meet with their preceptors outside of work. They are continuous learners."

Taking care of the brain, spine and nervous system is delicate work. At Novant Health, the goal is to provide exceptional care and to keep you living life fully.

TOP PHOTO: Registered nurse Elizabeth Mills (left), a 16-year veteran at Novant Health, helps newer nurses like Whitney Hoover (right) in the neurosurgical intensive care unit.