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Better mentoring must be priority for trusts, not 'soft option' for cuts

The mentoring of students must be a higher priority for those seeking to improve nurse education and the overall quality of care, according to a leading academic.

Sarah Robinson, visiting research fellow at the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London, warned that this vital element of nurse training could be seen as a “soft target” for cash-strapped organisations looking to cut costs.

“Everyone is anxious about quality of care and student nurse education and mentorship is a really important part of that,” she told Nursing Times. “It needs to be high up everyone’s agenda and I am not sure it necessarily is.”

“It needs to be high up everyone’s agenda and I am not sure it necessarily is”

Sarah Robinson

Ms Robinson was the principle investigator on a major piece of research on mentoring, which highlighted a range of issues, including whether the right people were being recruited to become mentors, and fears about the support and training for nurses who do take on the role.

The study involved 37 interviews with senior staff with mentoring responsibility at two London universities and seven trusts.

Ms Robinson said one of the main messages was the sheer complexity of mentoring arrangements.

“Most people think of mentoring as the relationship between the mentor and student, which is indeed the lynch pin of mentorship,” she said.

“But there is a huge amount that underpins it from the both the care side and educational side, all of which takes place within a framework of standards set by the NMC.

“What struck me was the sheer complexity of the number of people and activities involved.”

Findings from the study – published in a paper by the unit – show mentoring arrangements are under pressure from all sides.

“There’s not only pressure on mentors themselves to do a good job but on support people like link lecturers and practice education facilitators,” said Ms Robinson, who said some trusts had already cut practice education facilitator posts.

The study found many nurses training to be mentors did not get the five days protected learning time recommended by the NMC. It also highlighted concern about the proportion of learning being done online.

“How you assess a student’s competence and make judgements about whether they are fit to practise are complex and challenging matters. There was a strong view among our respondents that they need to be discussed face to face and a wholesale move to online was a problem,” said Ms Robinson.

Once nurses became mentors they often did not get enough time to spend with students because of their own workload and often found themselves completing paperwork at home.

Lord WillisLord Willis

The findings come amid the latest effort to improve nurse education and training through the Shape of Caring review, which was announced in May by Health Education England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

It is chaired by Lord Willis, who recently told Nursing Times he had concerns about the quality and consistency of practice placements.

Readers' comments (4)

  • Another fantastic research. If you want to find out about mentoring of students you interview "senior staff with mentoring responsibilities - that is the people who do not mentor the students.

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  • Not surprising - 5 days protected time as designated by the NMC, in our dreams. As resources are getting short and everyone getting overstretched, we'll be lucky to get any training. The NMC doesn't police it, so long as patients are being looked after seems like they don't really care.

    There seems to be increasing online learning for mentors, leading to more online teaching for students, assessments, feedbacks, etc...all online so great, being able to remotely do everything all online on a computer and does not interfere with the looking after patients on the virtual ward lol ;) yeah ;)

    Its been very well publicised about recruiting students with the right caring attributes to enter into nursing; the same should also apply to mentors and educators - its no good some of them don't have all the prerequisite skills, experience and patience to pass on their own skills and experiences, even if mentoring time is protected!

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  • As students we look to our peers and their attitudes and values are very important to the rest of our lives in practice.

    These mentors are, in my opinion, vital to the ongoing delivery of first class care in nursing and as such should indeed be recognised, supported and funded to do their job. Mentoring of students is either important or it is not, I feel sometimes we are an inconvenience in what is a very busy workplace filled with very vital care delivery requirements. Personally speaking I choose always to take the positive aspects from my experiences with my mentors, who have been themselfs first class nurses without exception.

    My point is I welcome this research very much and hope that more emphasis and importance can be given to the role of mentors in the front line care environment, that is that they would be protected to do their job.

    I am and will be a product of my experiences, nature and nurture, an elderly lady once said to me "if things don't alter they will stop as they are" shame really.

    Ian Grainger, Stoke on Trent.

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  • As a student I find its very rare to meet a mentor who actually wants to be one.
    I'm lucky that my current mentor is a good one but previously I've had quite a few who aren't caring enough to be nurses never mind mentor a student nurse!
    There often isn't enough time for mentors to dedicate time to explain things to students or assess them, and mentors sometimes seem to resent students because they feel it adds to their workload. Not ideal for the nurse or the student.
    Many mentors also aren't familiar with how students should be assessed, I think standardising the paperwork between universities would help to remove some of the ambiguity and take some of the anxiety away for those who have to complete it.

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