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'Is it necessary for all nurses to be mentors?'


Anyone who doesn’t see the benefit of Twitter, and thinks it’s merely a means of conducting a social life without ever needing to get out of your pyjamas should check out #Nurseshift and #Nurchat.

The organisers of these tweeting communities regularly convene a group of nurses to share opinions on a chosen topic at a set time and date using the above hashtags to curate the conversation.

I enjoyed a particularly robust Nurseshift debate about nurse mentors last Wednesday. It was about students’ (and mentors’) experiences of mentorship. While I was delighted to discover that most students had enjoyed a great relationship and learnt a lot from their mentors on clinical placements, a few were disappointed.

Tales of being ignored or treated as a spare part, of not being shown anything new – or worse, being made fun of – emerged. Now I can hear qualified nurse mentors springing to their keyboards to write me a response in their defence. Relax those typing fingers. I know there will be fault on both sides – one too many indolent or insolent students can tip even the most generous-hearted mentor over the edge and spoil them for the next generation.

Nevertheless, Nurseshift did reveal a split between those mentors who view the task as a privilege and those who see it as a chore.

So should mentorship be obligatory for nurses who want to rise through the ranks? While the ability to inspire others and impart what you have learnt is undoubtedly a necessity in the nursing workforce, I’m not sure it is essential that everyone proves this skill or indeed that everyone can develop it.

If I think of my own career, it’s useful if editors can nourish junior writers with their wisdom, but I’ve met many brilliant editors who couldn’t get beyond the DCI Gene Hunt from Life on Mars school of management. They haven’t been penalised for this, instead they’ve been heralded as a success for what they have achieved.

Why should nurses who have phenomenal clinical and patient skills be made to spend their time doing something they are not so good at in order to gain promotion in their chosen career?

Isn’t it better that their employer recognises their strengths and makes the best use of those skills, rather than forcing them to conform to a notion of what nurses should be good at?

Such coercion makes for a lacklustre experience for the student too. If what we need is a culture of professional leadership, we need to immerse students in a world of enthusiasm and positivity from the get-go – expertise alone is not enough.


Readers' comments (53)

  • There's a reason teachers go through 4 years of training. Not everyone's up to the task, and why should they be? We provide patient centred care - not student centred. I'm a student nurse myself, but I don't think mentorship should be forced apon nurses who already have plenty to do. There's no incentives to mentor, and nurses certainly don't get more time on busy wards to do so. I've been lucky mind you, and had excellent mentors, but I can understand entirely why some nurses view mentorship as a chore. As with everything in Nursing, it could likely be solved by better staffing...

    The only reason I'd say mentorship should be necessary is that without it there could be a chance that on busier wards, which are often wards which provide the most learning opportunities for students, there could be fewer mentors opting to take part. As such, students could end up having fewer ward placements and less rounded training.

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  • Hmmm don't nurses use skills learnt on mentorship modules to educate and support their patients??!

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  • Dear Grant Byrne

    "There's no incentives to mentor, and nurses certainly don't get more time on busy wards to do so."

    If you look at job adverts for nurses, especially if you want to go for a higher band, then one of the requirements is that you are a mentor. This could be classed as an incentive I feel. Another is that most nurses who want to mentor and do the course do so because they want to, so they can pass on what they learnt and ensure future nurses are trained properly. Yes, wards are busy, yes, nurses may occasionally feel put upon but they are able to factor into their working day teaching and observerving students, because this is what mentors do!

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  • Yes all nurses should be mentors. I agree, we are expected to deliver patient-centred care however disagree wth the not student centred care comment. Both types of care can be delivered at the same time as the skills we nurses use in delivering patient care are skills that we all could very easily demonstrate to our student. Good communication being one of the most important skills. I think it's cruel and selfish to not share our knowledge as this is what makes us all good nurses and experts in our field. Yes I agree things can get a bit hecktic at times but we owe it to society to produce good quality nurses. Sorry but I think if a nurse feels that mentorship isn't for her, I then have to question if this person's self centred attitude is the type of attitude we need to see from our nurses.

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  • I don't consider it self-centred to not want to mentor - some people simply don't want the responsibility of educating someone, and more importantly signing them off, especially in the case of a final patient where an individual has to judge whether or not a person is fit to nurse.

    By all means, if it's in their job description, then they'll have to do it, but I know from fellow student nurses that at times they've met mentors who simply don't want to do it. Maybe they just need more training - we'll fetch the money for that out of the piles lying in the NHS Treasury. Or, we could allow these people to opt not to mentor and instead allow nurses who want to, who're passionate about it, to take the lead.

    If they're good nurses, good to their patients, I don't see a problem with people not mentoring. It's a simple fix. These people will still work with students, and likely still teach them the odd thing, but the responsibility for their training and paperwork is passed on to someone more willing. I'm happy to admit many nurses who can't be arsed mentoring might have that attitude to their patients too, but in that case then mentorship really isn't the issue, is it?

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  • final placement*

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  • Mentors are not responsible for educating students. The education part takes place in university. All that is being asked of mentors is to share their knowledge and to ensure that a student is practicing safely. I think it is really wimpy of someone to not want to sign a student off as being fit for practice. Why can't mentors recognise that a student may need a little more help with a skill and take that student under their wing and assist them with it instead of moaning about the student and mentorship. We all mentor each other daily and learn from each other. No incentive should be required!!! Isn't it enough that possibly your future colleague is doing a good job because you mentored them well. We all have a responsibility to ensure students are safe practitioners and to speak up when they are doing something unsafely. This isn't judging them, it is keeping our patients safe from harm.

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  • Searching through the job vacancies (as I'm not far from qualifying now) there aren't many that don't say "mentor qualification or willingness to undertake essential". I think it's ridiculous to ask everyone to be a mentor. Will they really do a good job if they are forced to do it?; instead of having the passion that many of my mentors have had for teaching.
    Even non-mentors teach us students. I've not asked a single solitary nurse for help and received the reply: hold on, let me fetch your mentor.
    The NMC say we should teach and share our knowledge. That doesn't mean we all have to become mentors

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  • Little One

    Some Nurses who are mentors have absolutely no interest in helping to educate Student Nurses and their attitude is disgusting. It's a shame because some of them are really good Nurses, caring with patients, clinically excellent, but see Students as a nuisance and cannot wait to foist them off onto somebody else. Some mentors are lazy and show bad practice and some are brilliant. Unfortunately my last mentor was rubbish. She was lazy, didn't want to work with me, didn't want to teach me and was too snobby to be interested in talking to common (Diploma only) little me.

    "Anonymous | 20-Mar-2012 8:49 pm

    Mentors are not responsible for educating students. The education part takes place in university. All that is being asked of mentors is to share their knowledge and to ensure that a student is practicing safely."

    By sharing your knowledge, you are educating Students, you are passing on what you have learned to someone else. Many Students are taught correct moving and handling techniques regarding slide sheets for example at University but are taught on placements not to do it because no one can be bothered.

    I did not learn how to bed bath a patient at University, I learned by being instructed on a ward as to what I would need, how to assess how much help the patient would need, how to promote independence, how to maintain privacy and dignity whilst checking the skin for pressure ulcers etc etc etc.

    I did not learn what Asprin was and it's uses at University, I learned by being part of drug rounds on a ward and being quizzed and gaining knowledge from Nurses I was working with, as well as taking Patient Information Leaflets out of the medication boxes.

    Yes I do think that all Nurses should be mentors, as everyone can add something to a Student's training, however I think that there should be some sort of system in place whereby if you have a mentor who is rude or disinterested or teaching bad practice, you can speak to a Mentor Advisor or something similar and raise any concerns, which likewise the Mentor could do about their Student.

    I would love all Nurses to be passionate about teaching Students and imparting wisdom and knowledge but some really are not that bothered and it does the Student no favours when they are being 'taught' by someone who couldn't care less whether or not they actually learning.

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  • tinkerbell

    Grant Byrne | 20-Mar-2012 5:10 pm

    you don't have to be a sign off mentor to be a mentor. I am both but they are 2 separate roles.

    Those who are not registered mentors can still be associate mentors, sharing knowledge and experience, which surely we all do don't we?

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