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Student nurses call for longer clinical placements

Nursing students want fewer but longer clinical placements, according to the union Unison.

Students are also concerned about the suitability of some of their clinical placements which, in one example, included working in a shop, according to a report seen by Nursing Times.

Students must currently complete 2,300 hours of clinical practice and placements must last a minimum of four weeks. However, it is up the individual university to decide how many placements each student must complete.

In its formal submission to the Nursing and Midwifery consultation on revised standards for pre registration nursing courses, Unison said students believed they were being moved through too many placements too quickly.

The submission, based on the views of the union’s 470 branches, states: “Many [students] indicated that they only just became settled and find their ‘feet’ when it was time to move on.

“They indicated that a longer allocation would enable them to develop further in their practise and spend more time with their mentors.”

But the union also questions the appropriateness of some current placements. While it recognises the need for students to learn a whole range of skills and cope with a variety of settings, the union says some of the tasks delegated to students appear irrelevant.

It its submission Unison says: “Two students specifically were allocated to work in a charity shop. It was difficult to see how this skill and expose would relate to clinical practise.”

Last week Nursing Times revealed that student nurses were often being signed off or passed for clinical placements, despite concerns from their mentors about competence or attitude.   

In response to the findings, many students expressed concerns on nursingtimes.net at the lack of time they were able to spend with mentors, as well as the quality of some mentoring.

One student who had just completed their first placement said: “I found it extremely challenging to get my paperwork signed off, without sounding like I was continuously nagging for their time.”

A third year student said: “Some mentors are rubbish, using us as dog’s bodies and we end up performing tasks the healthcare assistants are paid to do.

They added: “At other times you’ll get a fab mentor who really loves sharing their knowledge and skills. Nurses should not be forced to mentor, and this is where the problem comes.”

Readers' comments (27)

  • What a shame that these students feel they are getting a raw deal, working in an area for just 4 weeks is just ridiculous.

    When I was a student nurse, ( numerous decades ago!) we did 12 week placements in clinical areas and all were relevant, however we were the main work force as well.

    Those of us who now work in General Practice and are a 'certain age' would be delighted to pass on our skills and knowledge to student nurses but they are usually allocated to the District Nurses and we never see them. A lot of us also have specialist skills and knowledge as well as teaching qualifications. Far more relevant than a Charity shop!

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  • as a mentor i have student nurses for 6 to 8 weeks during a students placement i try to give as much time as possible to give students an insight into my role where it fits in with the multipiciplary team and whilst i can understand frustration at maybe not spending longer with mentors, mentors are under pressure too from the nursing schools to take students on back to back placements, i dont believe this is beneficial for either students or mentors, for obvious reasons annual leave training other members of the team requiring support and if like myself work part time also help run a team, the strain of having a student nurse is considerable. but i can also see that student nurses need placements and there are huge numbers who need experience so what is the answer? fewer students with longer placements?
    whilst i am hesitatant about student nurses spending time working in charity shops it is a wonderful way to meet the public our customers so to speak and learn people skills as far as i am aware this has not happened in my area.
    i am concerned that some student nurses feel that they should not be given tasks that "health care assistants are paid for" and this makes me quite angry. i am a grade 6 and if for what ever reason i.e. wash a patient etc so their care is completed i will do it the patient should come first.
    if we are breeding student nurses that think menial tasks are beneath them then perhaps nursing is not the career for them.

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  • I would like to know where these numbers have come from, as a newly qualified nurse I disagree with this article. It is fair to say that the majority of students in my cohort felt placement lengths were enough to gain experience and exposure and to reach competancy. Prehaps these students mentioned need to look at what they are trying to achieve, the tasks that the HCA does are key to good nursing care and are fundemental to the nursing role and by no means belittleing.
    I would also like to see the opportunity to spend time in mental health, maternity and peads reintroduced inline with meeting the EUpack reqs, certainly mental health is a area that i have experienced many times in my career to date and i feel that doing a online pack is not sufficent training.
    Placements in a charity shop??? i know that there was a move that would see students in health centres etc but i too, have to question the sutiabilty of a shop placement.

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  • debra fretwell

    I am a first year student nurse studying at a uni in the north west, we have 3 clinical placements per year each lasting 8 weeks, and personally I think this is a perfect length of time. The placements we are given are also very varied, so far I have been on a ward, in the community and am back on another specialist ward in a few weeks time.

    I am however aware of another university in our area where students are on placement for 1-2 weeks, then they are back in lectures for a week, then a weeks annual leave so their experience is very syncopated and patchy.

    Perhaps there needs to be a nationally recognised agenda for nursing student courses where by all students get the same length and level of clinical experience, as although a lot can be learnt in lectures nothing can substitute the real thing.

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  • About one year ago I was fortunate enough to collaborate in an international meeting of studentnurses (English, German & Dutch). One thing that astounded me was that both German and English students had very short placements, about 6-8 weeks. That's about the amount of time I need to remember all the names of my colleagues. At Saxion (Bachelor of Nursing) a placement never is shorter then 10 (32 hour) weeks. 20 weeks of placement at the same facility is not unusual. We also need to have at least 2300 hours of placement prior to graduation. How are students (in the future) supposed the help 'reform' healthcare, if they cannot even glimpse at the networks behind the caregiving?

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  • I've just completed my general placement and hated it. The actual work I didn't mind but the team did nothing for my impression of general nurses. I was belittled due to my choice of branch and my mentor continually took the mickey out of me for fainting on one shift.

    To top it off I didn't have any kind of assessable contact with my mentors, only when she was walking out the door on my last shift and I managed to collar her for 60+ signatures. What we need are better regulated placements. As some placements have staff without a clue.

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  • I have not long qualified and feel that more emphasis on the actual nursing and not academics is what is required and feel that more time in the wards doing basics would assist new nurses as a number of new nurses feel unprepared for whats infront of you

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  • the student who said nurses shouldn't be forced in to mentoring has hit the nail on the head.

    In my last job i was told i wouldn't be able access anymore training with the PCT unless i didi the mentorship course. I told my manager i wasn't intereseted in being a mentor...she said do it or else!

    So i am now a mentor who doesn't want to be a mentor....i have no interest in mentoring students but i am forced to do it...where is the sense in that?

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  • If someone doesn't want to be a mentor this will reflect on the mentoring experience for both the nurse and the student. but it states in the NMC code of conduct 'You must facilitate students and others to develop their competence'
    Can we really allow people to start picking and choosing what parts of the NMC they want to follow?

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  • Here, here for the anon student on the 10th may, I hated my general placement...the people who were in need of looking after were great, but the staff who some how thought i was lazy for wanting to spend half an hour talking to patients about the weather, football, politics etc instead of pretending to work at the nurses station where i could have read OK amgazine instead thought it was wrong for me want to get to know patients.....glad my general placement was only four weeks!

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  • If someone doesn't want to be a mentor this will reflect on the mentoring experience for both the nurse and the student. but it states in the NMC code of conduct 'You must facilitate students and others to develop their competence'
    Can we really allow people to start picking and choosing what parts of the NMC they want to follow?

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  • I am half way through my second year of study and have to agree with many of the points mentioned here. My current mentor has just complained to Uni that I am only spending 2 blocks of 3 weeks on her ward and she (and I) feel this is not long enough. At the beginning of my second year I had 5 different placements during October and November then after Christmas hols. and Uni weeks I had another 5 placements in 6 weeks. I too have had great mentors but also some that either have only completed their mentor ship for personal gain or have no idea what being a mentor entails. As a mature student with a few years HCA experience I feel I am lucky as I have the confidence and knowledge to gain the most from my placements (even the ones that I felt were not beneficial or relevant). At Uni we are being prepared to becoming mentors ourselves, with much of our study being geared towards teaching others as much as self learning.

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  • I am a 2nd year student and I agree with much of the issues raised. I have had some terrible placement in which I spent most of my time trying to get my mentors to talk to me yet along sign off any paperwork. My current placement is excellent. All staff on the ward are keen to teach and spend time with students. I am very lucky.

    But having observed nurses duties on the wards, I am not at all confident that the training I have received at university is sufficient. Basic skills such as positioning a patient and communicating with relatives are greatly lacking. More time needs to be spent in placement areas and less time essay writing about subjects which have little relevance to a patient’s day to day care.

    Nursing needs to come out of the universities and back in to hands-on nursing schools.

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  • If someone doesn't want to be a mentor this will reflect on the mentoring experience for both the nurse and the student. but it states in the NMC code of conduct 'You must facilitate students and others to develop their competence'
    Can we really allow people to start picking and choosing what parts of the NMC they want to follow?

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  • Emily you triple posted! In reply to your queation. No of course we can't allow people to pick and choose which parts of the NMC code of conduct they would like to adhere to.

    It does highlight a need for the code to be revised and for nursing to ask itself why don't some nurses like or want to be mentors. There must be a reason?

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  • well done Arron patients need that communication i think your wonderful, keep up the good work as a mentor my self i would encourage this,these are the times you learn about patients and very often whats worrying them
    well done

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  • rovergirl6@hotmail.com

    i totally agree with the comment on coming out of universities , Bring them back to the wards full time ,have them go to the university for there education and stay on the wards doing full time and PAY THE A LIVING WAGE . i feel that the idea of placing them into uni was a covert way to cut training costs. think of it this way would the NHS rather pay a student £16,000 living wage or the paltry £6,500 they receive at present. it is not rocket science.The students can work alongside the really good HCA who do the hands on care. .and shadow the trained nurse on the occasion of learning procedures medication ans so on.

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  • I totally agree with the need to scrap uni alltogether and get students back into the hospitals, community full time. I am a mature 3rd year student who fortunately has had some excellent mentors and worked with some great MDT members, but i feel that i am unprepaired for qualifying at this present time. I am currently on my critical care placement and i feel like totally useless, our last placement was in November and this has made me feel like i have just gone back to the beginning of my training, we get far too much time in school and too long a break between placements. Ours are 7 weeks each which we have 3 a year and it is just not enough. Yes we need to have to do acedemic work but not whopping great essays that stress us out, at the end of the day do our patients really care if we have got an A16 or a D5 in a 4,000 word essay, i am yet to nurse a patient who asks me what grades i have acheived, i also see some students who are on their final placement and i wouldn't trust them with my dog let alone a family member, and the patients pick up on this too. Bring on longer placements and better pay and the nursing care will improve, i'm sure of it.

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  • I AGREE THAT STUDENT NURSES NEED TO SPEND MORE TIME IN CLINICAL AREA OR LONGER PLACEMENT.BECAUSE NURSING,IT'S NOT A TRIAL AND ERROR ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING AFTER PATIENT OR DOING NURSING PROCEDURES.STUDENT NURSES NEED A GOOD AND EXPERIENCED MENTOR AS WELL ,THIS IS VERY SIGNIFICANT TO DEVELOP THEIR KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS IN NURSING.THEY NEED TO WORK AND SUPERVISED BY THEIR MENTORS IN PRACTICE SETTING AT LEAST 40% DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY IN THEIR CLINICAL PLACEMENT.I KNOW THAT THIS IS QUITE DIFFICULT SOMETIMES BECAUSE OF SHORT STAFFS,SICKNESS PROBS. ETC...BUT AS A MENTOR IT'S OUR ROLE TO ASSESS IF THE STUDENT IS CAPABLE OF SAFE AND EFFECTIVE PRACTICE AT THE END OF THE PLACEMENT.I THINK WE NEED TO GIVE MORE SUPPORT TO THE STUDENTS AS WELL AS TO THE MENTORS TO ACHIEVE THIS OBJECTIVES.MENTORING IS A WORTH-REMEMBERING EXPERIENCE.I BELIEVED THAT GOOD/BAD MENTORING INFLUENCED A LOT TO WHAT KIND OF NURSES WE ARE PRODUCING/NURTURING.THAT'S MENTORS ARE KEY TO THE SUCCESS IN NURSING.

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  • i am a second year student who has found that some mentors are lacking in communication skills when it comes to teaching students. when i have asked a question during placements i have been told that in order to find the question i have to read up on its as my homework? was this because the qualified nurse didnt know the ans as she asked me to let her now when i find out? i also feel unprepared and agree with most of the comments already made that we need more time on placements and we need to be able to spend more time on hands on jobs.

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