In the research article titled, The meaning of empowerment for nursing students: a critical incident study, Bradbury-Jones et al. (2007) explore the meaning of empowerment for nursing students in relation to their clinical practice experiences. Student descriptions of empowering and disempowering experiences in the clinical setting revealed mentorship as a central antecedent to empowerment, a finding also supported by Pearson (1998). Campbell (2003) suggests that all nurses should consciously decide to facilitate empowering experiences for nursing students with whom they interact. Can all nurses serve as mentors? Are all nurses empowered in order that they may foster empowerment in others?
Nurse leaders have the opportunity to impact the empowerment of nursing students by facing the challenge of building cultures and systems to facilitate empowerment in their own nursing staff. Randolph (1995) suggests that a truly empowered environment can take several years to unfold and requires leaders with strong resolve to complete the empowerment process. Laschinger and Havens (1996) emphasize the importance of engaging all levels of nursing leadership committed to a shared vision of fostering empowered staff behaviour so that efforts are synchronous and productive.
The process of creating an empowered environment is not a simple task. It depends on a symbiotic relationship of the nurse, the environment, and leadership styles designated by Fullam et al. (1998) as the triad of empowerment. Certain professional and personal traits of nurses are essential in developing empowered behaviour. Nurses who value themselves and their work, set personal goals, actively seek learning opportunities to achieve their goals, and willingly assume responsibility and accept accountability for their practice, are primed for the empowerment process. The environment in which the nurse works influences the development of empowerment. The organizational culture that provides a non-threatening and motivating work environment promoting acceptance, respect, and commitment is such a culture. Leadership style is integral: nursing leaders who establish trusting relationships with nurses, provide nurses with education and resources, enable nurses to recognize their strengths, abilities, and personal power, and nurture nurse autonomy effectively develop empowerment in their nursing staff.
In their study, Bradbury-Jones et al. (2007) revealed that mentorship can be empowering or disempowering. Not all nurse mentors provided empowering clinical experiences for nursing students. It is the nurse leader’s responsibility to put the pieces of the triad of empowerment together so that mentorship in his/her clinical setting can be a true antecedent to nursing student empowerment. Nurse leaders who foster an empowered environment positively impact the future of nursing.