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Mentors - is it still difficult to fail students?


In 2003, research for the Nursing and Midwifery Council revealed that nurses often found it hard to fail the students they were mentoring – even when they had serious concerns about their competencies. Is this still the case? Nursing Times wants your views

The NMC responded in 2008 with new guidance to help strengthen the role and support of nurse mentors and improve the training of students.

If you have worked as a nurse mentor, please take part in our anonymous survey to find out whether things have changed for the better. It should take no longer than five minutes to complete.

The findings will be reported soon, in depth, in a forthcoming issue of Nursing Times.

If you would like to talk to us about the survey or the issue, please feel free to contact Sally Gainsbury on 020 7728 3758, or email


Readers' comments (25)

  • When I was a student I found that there were often three types of mentors.

    The first was a true mentor, they worked alongside you, taught you, searched out learning opportunities for you, and made an honest assesment and appraisal of your worth and skills as you went along. These unfortunately were rare.

    The second was the non existent mentor, the mentor who left you to just get on with it and did not want to know. Then begrudgingly ticked all the boxes on the forms at the end and waved you goodbye. These are the worst type of mentor as this helps noone.

    The third was a variation on the second, the mentor who left you to just get on with it and did not want to know, then judged you extremely harshly despite barely having worked a day with you. I have seen a lot of good Nurses get failed or harshly judged by these people throughout my student days and my working life. And these people have NO problem in failing students, often undeservedly.

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  • ive got to say i completely agree with the above comments from mike. ive seen people fail who should of passed and people being judged extrmely harshly on a snapshot peformance. some people need to be worked with to understand what they are like not drilled for 5 mins at the end of a placement to be judged on.

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  • People need serious training in mentorship skills. They should then be able to support the student every inch of the way in all aspects of their career and it should be a trusting relationship. On a few occasions personalities cannot get along together and their is no shame in this but it is preferable for all concerned to provide an opportunity to change mentors if this is the case. However, if the student and mentor are carefully matched at the outset there should be no problem. Flexibility, empathy and understanding are amongst the qualities required for mentorship and those one would expect from nurses as well. As in person-centred therapy there should be unconditional positive regard and mutual respect and mentors should be non-subjective and capable of providing a non-judgemental environment. They should then have no difficulty in giving accurate feedback and allowing for improvement and aiding the student to seek solutions to any problems. It should be a experience of personal growth for both the student and the mentor. Their role is not simply to demonstrate procedures, observe the student and then judge them on their performance. Furthermore, when working with patients extreme diplomacy is required to build confidence in the learner and not to destroy the trust and confidence of the patient. Impressions formed by student nurses on the way they have been treated can stay with them for the rest of their life and influence their self-confidence as well as their career and quality of care they deliver. Bad experiences may rebound right through the system with devasting effects on the morale of staff and the care given to patients.
    Once a new student nursing colleague of mine, asked the sister not to tell her off in front of the patient and the reply was that all the patients knew that she didn't know anything! This happened on her very first ward experience.

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  • I agree with the first commentator. Some mentors are trained and not bothered about working with their students. I had a collegue who was failed on the last day because the mentor thought she was not competent. Firstly after spending six weeks with somebody as a so called mentor why did you not notice that this student lacked competency in certain areas. As a professional you are bound by the law of the NMC to correct these areas beforethis person graduates. you are supposed to impact your knowledge on the student. To be honest I was lucky and had only one bad mentor who i felt was not competent enough. Otherwise I worked with other senior nurses when my mentors were busy or not around and it helped me. Some mentors take it seriously and want to make an impact and some do not give a hoot.

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  • I have been a very fortunate mentor, all the students I have had have been very keen and have a naturally high level of ability. If students can manage on my very busy ward then any other placement would be a breeze. Most students are first year first placement, some have opted to come back for their management placement...we must be doing something right as a team on the ward.

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  • I failed my clinical practice & my facillitator/mentor only told me in the last week that she thought I was not competent. I was in such shock as up until then I thought I was doing ok. The trouble is she just expected a lot from me & I was often nervous in front of her. plus she didn't offer much in the way of sharing her knowledge to make it easier for me. Also her personality & mine were worlds away from each other & she often singled me out in front of other students to talk about one of my issues. I am now placing a formal complaint to the University about her. Due to her lack of mentoring I have been professionally held back. There needs to be another assessment taken place for students in these situations rather than leaving the decision on who is competent or not to one person who may favor one student over another or any other reason that occurs between students & mentors.

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  • As a mentor, I have had grave concerns about 2 students and sought their tutors advice with their knowledge, so we could work together to try and solve the issues. The first student was quite early on in their training, and there were a lots of personal issues this student had and found it very difficult to cope. The outcome was that they took a short break and returned to sucessfully complete their training. The second student was on their final placement, so this made it more difficult to tackle. They had excellent caring skills but sadly lacked an understanding and the ability to interpret key issues concerning the 'sick' person. Again, after raising these issues with the student, I approached her mentor. I tackled each individual objective, with comments, some favourable, some with deep concern. All three of us set up a programme to try and improve their performance. My standard lies with whether I could trust a person to look after a member of my family, and unfortunately in this case the answer was 'no'. What saddens me most is that this mature student had completed almost 3 years of training with a passion to be a nurse, and these issues had not been picked up before. This made the process much harder, I really admired this student as a person. The outcome was an extension to their training period, with a different mentor and on a different placement, to minimise any bias, with such a big decision to make. Sadly this student failed. I strongly believe this student's nursing career would have ended soon, even if they qualified, but it would most likely been down the disciplinary route, and that would have destroyed them even more so. The student is now working as an excellent HCSW, we bump into each other now and then, and we always greet each other warmly and she accepts the decision was the right one. It's a shame that some of the comments above foster an 'us and them' culture. I might add, some students who are very 'competent' are very hard to mentor, having seen or done something once, and they seem to think that is enough. Others, the majority, are a pleasure to mentor. I find that mentoring students is a two way experience, I learn too! I hope the students who have had a bad experience, learn from it and become excellent mentors themselves..good luck in your careers.

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  • It is virtually impossible to fail a student. I tried and failed, pardon the pun.

    We had a student on a 5 week placement who was very good at 'not being there' and took full advantage of a busy department and disappeared most of the time.

    This was addressed in week 3 and she was given an action plan to work with her named person for every remaining shift until the end of the placement, and given a basic set of tasks such as completing a nursing assessment form in A&E and ensuring the patients in her care had gowns on, namebands and that observations were completed.

    DUring this placement, she had also taken many 'spoke' days here and there, and I advised her, that due to such a limited time left on her placement, that she should not take any more spoke days if she wanted to achieve her outcomes on this placement.

    I returned several days later to find her mentor still unhappy with the student as she had gone on a further spoke day! Despite being told not to do this.

    As the placement coordinator in my department, I then decided to take over looking after this student in her final week and had a long discussion about what was expected. As she had one week left, I set out some basic objectives for her in order to pass the placement.

    In the end, I had to fail her as her attendance was so poor, she had taken further spoke days when advised not to. She had also taken it upon herself to triage an ambulance patient without any supervision at all whilst I was dealing with another incident. After I had realised what had happened, I questioned her as to how she assessed the patient and how she came to the decision as to where to place the patient and she replied 'oh I thought they all just went to majors'. Luckily it wasn't an acute MI or something.

    But despite all attempts to allow this student pass and develop and she did not do this so I reluctantly failed her.

    However, she appealed and was subsequently passed by the university and continues to flout the placement process.

    I have also heard many similar stories from colleagues about this. So it seems nothing really changes.

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  • unfortunately hospital trusts do not give nurses the time to train as mentors...especcially 'sign off mentors'.
    Mentors are given the task as mentors on top of their busy work load.
    When are people going to recognise that nurses are overworked and underpaid. Why can't clinical educators (old nurse tutors) mentor these students thus leaving the nurses to get on with providing quality care to patients.

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  • I have to ask...spoke day?

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