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Time for debate on future of nurse mentorship, says report

There should be a debate on whether most nurses should continue to be viewed as potential mentors for students, according to nursing academics.

Researchers at the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London have asked whether it is time to “rethink the role of mentor in nurses’ careers”.

They suggest that a separate career pathway could be developed for nurses who want to specialise in education, noting that mentoring can be a challenging task that requires substantial clinical experience and confidence.  

In a short report published last week, they said becoming a mentor had long been regarded as an important step in nurse career development and was essential for promotion in many organisations. But they warned this meant nurses may become mentors for reasons other than interest in nurse education.

They added that the quality of mentorship could suffer if undertaken by nurses without a “genuine interest” in student education, while noting that staff could be excellent nurses “without the aptitude or desire to be mentors”.    

However, on the other hand, they acknowledged that working with students encouraged nurses to keep updated and maintain competency, and that to maintain current student numbers relied on most nurses being mentors.

Their report states: “Mentorship continues to be recognised as the cornerstone of student nurse education, but the profession and statutory bodies need to debate its future direction.”

“Is the education of student nurses best served by a system in which all nurses are potential mentors or should the role be taken up as a discrete pathway by fewer nurses with dedicated time to spend with students and develop confidence in assessment,” it said.

The report was based on a study involving interviews with 37 senior members of staff at two higher education institutes in London.


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Readers' comments (22)

  • Mentorship is an essential aspect of every nurse's job. If you don't want to pass on skills, then don't be a nurse. Teaching and educating, whether it be students, peers or patients are vital in our job. Creating a tier of nurses who 'specialise' in mentoring will undoubtedly take them away from their job, which will be passed onto the non-mentors and will lead to de-skilling of mentors (which would call into question their qualification to mentor!)and resentment of the non-mentors.

    How about staffing the wards, units, community settings, etc. adequately and better supporting mentors in the workplace? Too simple and obvious?

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  • Litrature emerging post Francics emphasises that mentors poorly support as wel as lack support themselves in the workplace such as too posh to wash ( challenges us to consider how mentors operate and how they should be supported. The NMC standards are long due for an overhall

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  • I am a student nurse. The vast difference between a 'want to be a mentor' nurse and the 'have to do it' mentor is amazing. I've had placements with such fantastic mentorship I've not wanted to leave and placements with mentors who insist on calling me "the student" and telling me they are glad we only work short days as having a student "under their feet" all day is exhausting and "do you want to go see what X is doing over there" once too frequently, the disinterest in what skills I have going on or what I'm aiming towards. Something needs to be done about mentorship because I have in effect 'wasted' half my training learning 'nothing' because the mentor 'can't be bothered' and isn't interested in what they are meant to be teaching. So while I'd whole heartedly support specific education interested mentors I do see the numbers issue, currently at my university around a quarter of the cohort don't have placements due to lack of mentors so the uni lays on clinical teaching sessions which are simply not the same thing as doing it on the wards/departments, thus cutting mentor numbers further would only aid our trusts problem in that the first comment is written, the wards lack staff, are stressy enough without students requiring more time from the over worked nurses, and those who are there seem 'forced' to be mentors with little incentive for them to do so - they are not paid anymore, their tasks take longer with us questioning and them explaining everything, sometimes two or three times on more complicated tasks or to answer further questions. Personally I think my nurse training is a joke and due to qualify shortly, worrying thought that cohort after cohort will be coming through thinking/feeling the same thing.

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  • surely student nurse/trained nurse = mentorship = partnership where one learns from the other. that is how I have always considered my learning in any field and from everybody whether in a formal structured setting or more informally, life long and am still learning. Learning is much about curiosity, eagerness to discover and to extend one's horizons in no matter what domain and includes every human encounter. it is a fascinating journey. those who find it or anyone boring may not have not asked all of the right questions and explored the endless possibilities and reflected on the answers which will raise even more questions. Learning and the privilege of a relationship with another can be highly motivating and should also be an enjoyment at all you can learn and skills which you can develop to the highest standards and pass your expertise on to others.

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  • Anonymous | 5-Nov-2013 5:04 pm

    "Something needs to be done about mentorship because I have in effect 'wasted' half my training learning 'nothing' because the mentor 'can't be bothered' and isn't interested in what they are meant to be teaching."

    Bit of a cop-out, isn't it? Blaming the mentors for wasting 50% of YOUR training? Why have you learned nothing? Can't you be bothered? Is it easier just to blame the mentor?

    My colleague, Anonymous | 5-Nov-2013 5:42 pm, is absolutely spot on. It is a partnership. There is nothing to be gained from simply dumping the responsibility for everything at the door of mentors. I love being a mentor. But I am a senior, very busy and hands on nurse who receives no support in my mentorship role. With every new student, the university changes the paperwork, outcome criteria, etc. The students themselves often don't understand what is required. My acute environment is a great place to learn, and I and my colleagues work very hard to give our students the best experience possible. They, like us, are just people. Some students are brilliant, some are lazy and disinterested. I wonder whose fault that is?More staff and support for mentors please, not fewer mentors.

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  • I have been a mentor for some years now before it was made compulsory by my trust. I have really enjoyed it and hope with my knowledge and skills have helped student nurses learn from their placement with me. I have to admit it is hard work as we don't always get extra time taken into account the time spent with students. The only problem I have found is that the role of mentor is then a sign off mentor. Then you mentor sign off mentors and then you sign off mentors to be. So the role then becomes overwhelming. I do believe that more in-depth training is necessary if this role is being extended for the benefit of the student and the mentor. I do at times feel out of my depth as students appear more academic than when I trained 35 years ago. I have to admit though I am secretly proud that I have signed off some pretty amazing students who I know will be an absolute asset to the health profession.

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  • It sounds a bit like re-inventing the wheel, and creeping back to clinical educators 'of a different kind'. They spent time on essential care and practical skills, which wouldn't be such a bad thing, me thinks. With fewer of them, and working to a programme, education was more consistent. I also see the other side of the coin, whereby ward/dept staff want/need to keep up their skills through mentoring. There lies another issue, if these changes come into being, then staff need more support in updating and progressing their skills. At present, this is inconsistent, and sometimes non-existent.

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  • The big issue here is that most mentors would I think be much more effective if staffing levels were appropriate for them to undertake the role (and more importantly for them to undertake their own CPD to feel confident in their clinical role and use of evidence informed practice

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  • no body can do a good job is constantly stressed and their workload is more than they can effectively manage and mentorship is no exception.

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  • sorry, should have read 'nobody'

    would also like to add that prolonged undue stress and inability to cope with unrealistic workload can eventually lead to resignation, poor attitude and psychological and even physical withdrawal which may explain some of the complaints made. we should all learn to recognise these signs and deal with such issues as best we can although without the necessary support from managers, employers and colleagues this is not easy.

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  • @ Anonymous | 5-Nov-2013 6:16 pm comments like yours toward a student are the reasons why not all nurses should be mentors ! I am pretty sure she is not a 'cant be bothered student'.As what she is saying is true .I work hard at my training ,and do not expect a mentor to hold my hand and do everything for me .What I would like is a little bit of encouragement ,respect ,and for them to pass on their knowledge on to me . I am not saying all mentors are the same, I have had some amazing ones .But I can assure you that the bad have outweighed the good .Being told they will just sign off your book to get you out their hair .Or listening to them constantly running down the profession are not the things you want from a mentor.We understand they are busy .But surely if nursing has got these people to such a negative point ,where they cannot even smile at a student .Then I think its time for them to move over and let people who want to teach take over .

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  • Anonymous | 8-Nov-2013 12:56 pm

    Comments like yours show why some students shouldn't be nurses. I took issue with a student who blamed placement mentors for "..... in effect 'wasted' half my training learning 'nothing' because the mentor 'can't be bothered' and isn't interested in what they are meant to be teaching."
    Mentors are not responsible for half of a student's training. I also dispute the truth of the argument. It is a perception. If a student is concerned about their learning experiences, it is up to them to approach their university.
    Simply taking offence to criticism, responding with churlish comments and placing the blame for everything on mentors demonstrates a lack of awareness and maturity.

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  • it's so depressing being a mentor these days. i used to love it until my workload and level of responsibility increased to the point where i feel that my head constantly spins. now it appears that it is entirely my fault that students are having a negative experience! well at least they are learning early to blame everyone else. i have a sullen-faced, miserable little student who i have been mentoring for two weeks. i take the view that maybe she is shy, lacking in confidence and a bit scared and i work hard to give her encouragement and a positive learning experience. but she shows no enthusiasm or willingness. on monday we will be sitting down to review what has been happening. i have no support, i don't know anything about this girl other than what she has told me and she says practically nil. is there a problem with her? i don't know. i spoke to her course tutor on friday and was shrugged off. i'm expected to mentor someone with no idea about her. i'm sorry if some students think they are having rough time, but you really have no idea of the pressures on mentors and the complete lack of support that exists for us. someone suggested bringing back clinical teachers in the wards. i'm now all for that. i would hate to lose my mentorship role but it has beome a no-win situation and i am tired of being the scapegoat for yet one more thing.

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  • "...i don't know anything about this girl other than what she has told me and she says practically nil. is there a problem with her?"

    have you asked her if she has a problem and gently explained how you feel about her position? needs careful and tactful questioning before discussing her in her absence with others.

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  • Anonymous | 9-Nov-2013 10:45 am

    the problem with short posts is that you don't get time to paint the full picture. what you suggest has already been done and i have spent a considerable amount of time trying to help and support her. that will continue. i only spoke to her course tutor with her full knowledge and permission. i've been a mentor for many years so i do know what i am doing. but i do not have limitless time and i think something more needs to be done to support this student. i am sick of reading comments which run down mentors. the truth is mentors are given little or no information and support to carry out this role. so bring back clinical tutors or specialist mentors...who will not have time to actually nurse.....but either support me as a mentor or leave me alone to get on with my job as a nurse.

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  • Anonymous | 9-Nov-2013 11:38 am

    from Anonymous | 9-Nov-2013 10:45 am

    you are quite right but unfortunately not all are as conscientious and mindful as you appear to be and one can only comment on what is written here.

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  • unfortunately, few seem to look behind what is written. after the acres of space taken up with the consequences of chronic understaffing and the lack of value placed on supporting mentors, it is obvious that a rethink is required.

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  • "Mentors are not responsible for half of a student's training."

    So who is for their 2300 hours in clinical practice? Is it not mentors who sign off students now to the NMC? Of course we are responsible for that part of a student's training, who else would be? If you want to wash your hands of it all and be the blame for nurses coming out of training not knowing how to do their jobs then so be it, but mentorship of students is a massive and important part of their education and as a professional if you can't take responsibility for the ability of people you have taught then I wonder why you even identify as a professional.

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  • Anonymous | 10-Nov-2013 0:03 am

    It took quite a while for some shrub to throw in the 'professional' word. You only have to wait for it. If you are using it to denigrate someone else, and you are, it is because you don't understand its meaning.

    If you look properly, (but hey why would you?), you will see that the commentator does not mention or advocate the washing hands of anything. The commentator who made the comment which has caused you so much blind hysteria, also posted about his/her efforts of making the student experience "the best experience possible." Your faux outrage and exaggerated conclusion jumping is disingenuous. I happen to agree with Anonymous | 5-Nov-2013 6:16 pm. It is a partnership.

    FYI the academic institution which facilitates the student's education and awards the degree/ diploma on the completion of the course is responsible for the entirety of the student's training. It is responsible for the curriculum which must reflect reflect contemporary knowledge and enable development of evidence-based practice. Mentors are named registrants who 'support' student learning in practice environments and work in partnership with the university. Don't overstep your responsibility. Hubris is very bit as dangerous as apathy.

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  • Anonymous | 10-Nov-2013 10:24 am

    "It is a partnership."
    I agree.
    The student nurse whose post has sparked this aspect of the debate made contradictory statements. They admitted to having good mentors before apparently writing off 50% of their training due to poor mentors!
    Others have written here about the real and serious problems faced by mentors. They are responsible for ensuring that students achieve the required domains in clinical practice. They support and facilitate learning in clinical practice and they sign off (or not) on proficiency. Very few nurse mentors are actually qualified teachers.
    In my hospital we have one mentor support practitioner (who, although nice, is seldom seen), I am rarely without a student to mentor (and I totally understand the person who wrote about the ever-changing paperwork) and I am given no extra time for my mentorship role because my ward is so short staffed. I am fully aware of my responsibility as a mentor and I take it very seriously. I know that, as has been implied, I am not in the minority. My colleagues are in the same boat and care and work as hard as me to support students. Lecturers in the university don't have the challenges of time and the multitude of roles that placement mentors have. Blaming mentors, accusing them of shirking their responsibility and questioning their professionalism when they express an opinion will only lead more to push for the reintroduction of clinical teachers. I would personally welcome it.

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