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Practice comment

"The stage 1 mentor role for new nurses needs questioning"

I began my nursing career in the late 1970s as a healthcare assistant (or auxiliary nurse as I was called back then), and was fortunate to be supported by a sister who saw the “nurse” in me and encouraged me to enter nurse training.

Throughout my training, I was mentored by a variety of nurses who were not necessarily qualified mentors, but none the less supported and guided me to become the nurse I am today. My experiences of being mentored enabled me to develop cognitive and psychomotor skills, and also prepared me to become a leader and a mentor myself once I had qualified. Now as a lecturer, I meet many excellent mentors, some of whom are stage 1 mentors working as newly qualified nurses.

Although the mentoring and support for students is acknowledged as vital for their ongoing development, there is little to explain the concept of a stage 1 mentor. Once employed, a newly qualified nurse assumes the title of stage 1 mentor according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council developmental framework (NMC, 2008a). As a stage 1 mentor, registrants must meet the requirement of the NMC code (2008b) to “facilitate students and others to develop their competence”. A stage 1 mentor is able to support, supervise and teach students, but must do this under the supervision of a mentor who is accountable for that student’s assessment.

However, in my experience newly qualified nurses do not seem to recognise the term stage 1 mentor, let alone understand the requirements of the role.

Nurses entering the preparation for mentorship programme have said that when first qualified, they felt unprepared to support students when they considered themselves to be novice nurses with no real experience of mentoring others. They had to rely on their own experiences of being mentored, despite not having the know-ledge and skills to undertake this role.

So, my first question is: should pre-registration nursing programmes introduce the concept of mentoring from the outset? This helps students to understand the mentor role when being mentored and also prepares them to be a stage 1 mentor.

There is much literature on the qualities and abilities of mentors, but little evidence whether these apply to neophyte nurses in the stage 1 role. Evidence relating to the development of stage 1 mentors is far from conclusive; most studies of newly qualified nurses focus on clinical competence rather than mentoring skills.

Despite research into the development of nurses within the perceptorship period, most studies focus on clinical competence rather than mentoring skills. I therefore ask another question: are newly qualified nurses prepared for the role of stage 1 mentor?

Answering these questions will inform pre-registration nursing and preceptorship programmes, therefore preparing newly qualified nurses to support students.

Louise Lawson is senior lecturer, University of Hertfordshire.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Can an S.E.N be a mentor for student nurses.I cant get my head round th because if theyve not qualified as RGN how can they lead and support students ??

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  • Don't underestimate SENs, they had the best of both worlds. Training initially with the accent on the more practical side of nursing/caring, but it wasn't without any skills or knowledge. To be honest there wasn't that much difference. I trained initially as an SEN, and at the time we were in charge of a ward (and patients) as much as an SRN (then). In fact they still are, as band 5's ,there is no distiction. I know some staff who are still SENs, but are excellent nurses and if I were a patient I would want them to look after me, no problem. In fact there is one who sticks out in mind who I would want to look after me, if I had the choice. They have probably worked harder to show their knowledge and worth more than any other sector of nurses. Just in case you wonder, I converted in 1989/90 and still hold the same view. SEN training ceased in 1989, "(In the UK prior to 1989 two levels of nurse were trained: first level, or `Registered Nurses' (RNs), and second Level, or `EnrolledNurses' (ENs). In 1989 changes to nurse education driven by `Project 2000' marked the end of EN training)", so any SEN will have at least 23 years experience and lifelong learning under their belt. A bit more than a student nurse, me thinks. Embrace any knowledge and experience you can get, then make judgements.

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  • Youve missed the point I was making I have worked with loads of S.E.Ns who are superb nurses and the majority converted to RGNs.The point I am making is if someone didnt do the conversion course how can they mentor a student along a course they themselves have not completed!

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  • I haven't missed the point. The conversion course training is out of date now as is RGN/RN training of years ago. However, all staff have to keep up to date, so all SENs and RGN/RNs will have been updated to keep up to date with what you are being trained to do. It may be that these nurses have not undergone todays training, but nurses of the future will be undergoing a course/training that you haven't done, but you will have kept yourself updated (lifelong learning) and see yourself fit to be a mentor to these students. I hope that clarifies my point.

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  • When I hear some of the things that are no longer in nurse training, I wonder how on earth we managed to fit our training in 3yrs! (I was the just post P2K era). We did a whole assignment on teaching/assessing, admittedly with more of a patient focus, but extended in our 'management' block to cover mentoring staff & was deemed sufficient for us to be exempt from 1/2 of the old ENB 998. I would have felt uncomfortable officially mentoring senior students as a newly-qualified nurse, but could still be a useful 'mentor' for them, although probably less of a teacher, in still being close enough to the experience to empathise with/remember some of what they'd experience on the ward & with registration looming. Mentoring CFP students (as they were then) felt more doable, & could act as a confidence boost regarding how much you had learnt & developed during your training. There can't be many students who haven't learnt useful lessons from other more senior students on placement with them at the same time.
    That 'management' block is now called 'preparation for professional practice' locally - surely fulfilling your Code of Conduct/professional role involves mentoring & it should be an inherent part of that training?
    (Admittedly, as permanent night staff I do not get the opportunity to be a designated mentor for current students so have not been sent on/could not fulfil the practice requirements for current NMC mentorship courses. A part of my role I miss, but also means I apologise if some of the terminology in my post isn't current)

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  • The NMC do not use the terminology of 'mentor' at stage one of their standards to support learning and assessment (2008a). They are simply standards they expect every registrant to achieve. These are linked in turn to the NMC code (2008b) and also in many areas to the Band 5 job description many newly qualified nurses are employed in following qualification, which in my experience contain reference to supporting learning and mentoring students. As stated in the NMC standards registrants cannot be mentors until they have been qualified for a year. They can however support the learning of others. Locally we introduce the concept of this supporting role to student nurses as they move towards the end of their training. It tends to link into the roles many will have taken on in practice in supporting junior students, whether that be formally or informally and has been requested by practice partners in order that the newly qualified nurses do posess some skills and knowledge in supporting the learning of others. As they do this in conjunction with mentors who go onto assess the student nurses I do think that whilst it is a challenging role, it is one that is expected by their code and often by their job description as well as detailed in the standards to support learning and is one they should have had preapration for prior to qualification.

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