In his Student Affairs blog, student editor Alan discusses mentorship and how far a negative experience can effect students’ progression
I’ve talked in the past about issues that affect student nurses in a more abstract way. Now I would like to turn to an issue that has affected me personally: mentorship.
Mentors can be the best or worst thing about placement. Student experiences in my cohort range from fantastic to terrible. For my part, it’s been a mixed bag.
Although I have benefitted from a more recent succession of good mentors, a bad experience still sits with me and prevents me from feeling completely comfortable as a student. Rather than delve into the minutia of circumstance I will instead make clear that my final month of a particular placement was a very sad and stressful one
“I felt foolish for letting placement continue the way it had for so long”
I would often think back and wonder why my mentor behaved in the way they did, as they justified their actions as a response to stress or as a result of my own behaviour. My mentor was truly a very knowledgeable practitioner, and I am grateful to be able to use much of what I learned there in practice today.
That was enough for me till perhaps six months ago. As time has drawn on, I have become less inclined to justify what happened, due in no small part to hearing from others who have had similar experiences with the same mentor. I was desperate to hear from these people. The catharsis was excellent, yet I felt foolish for letting placement continue the way it had for so long and for allowing others to be opened up to experiencing the same problems.
“My vulnerability prevented me from standing up to my mentor and getting the university involved”
I assumed my previous life experience and relative confidence would have protected me against such events, or at least the emotional impact that they may carry. But entering a new environment with little understanding left me vulnerable, and this prevented me from standing up to my mentor and getting the university involved.
Now that I am nearing the end of my time as a student, I am inclined to forgive. However, the memory of that time will likely stay with me. It will add to all the positive memories of my experiences with mentors. The better ones are those that remember what being a student is like. And when I take on students myself, perhaps it is best that I remember both the good and the bad experiences, so that I can replicate the best and be sure to never repeat the worst.
“Students like me should feel able to speak out when they receive poor treatment from mentors”
We spend much of our time as students with these nurses who have been tasked to look after and teach us as well as encourage our success. I did not enter nursing imagining myself becoming a teacher of my peers. Perhaps in time we will have sufficient nurses to allow those who do not want to take on students to avoid this practice.
Until that time, students like me should feel able to speak out when they receive poor treatment from mentors. We are not lessened by our student status, and the ever present need for mentors should not prevent poor behaviour being acknowledged.
Even when we feel we cannot affect a change on our own, we must ask for help when it is needed.
And always remember that happier times - and perhaps a better mentor - are around the corner.
Alan Brownlee is Student Affairs Editor, Nursing Times and a final-year post-graduate student, University of York
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New Student Affairs Editor Alan believes that nurses need to become masters of their own profession and leaders in healthcare.
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