The mentor role has been pivotal in practice learning for nursing and midwifery since the 1980s. Many registrants have been mentored as students and then gone on to become mentors. Some, like me, have made mentorship an area of expertise, supporting many mentors to facilitate students’ learning and assess them.
From September 2019, the mentor role will change with the implementation of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s Standards for Student Supervision and Assessment (SSSA).
The mentorship role is being separated into practice supervisors who support students, plan and facilitate learning and practice assessors, who have the assessment role. Staff can hold both roles of practice supervisor and practice assessor but they cannot do so with the same student at the same time.
Supervisors and assessors will now also be supported by a university-based role of an academic assessor, who will “work in partnership with a nominated practice assessor to evaluate and recommend the student for progression for each part of the programme”.
These changes are part of current university programme approvals for all NMC-approved programmes. Many universities, including mine, are part of regional groups collaborating in partnership with placement organisations to agree models across a range of specialities.
The separation of the mentor role into that of supervisor and assessor brings both opportunities and risks.
Practice supervisors can be any nurse, midwife or registered health and social care professional, so there is opportunity here to review what placements and learning opportunities we can offer to students. In some specialities, this will mean a team of supervisors from a range of professions can be brought together to offer a strong interprofessional approach to supporting student learning. It may also mean we can widen the placements offered to provide learning opportunities to healthcare students that focus primarily on social care, now that we are not restricted to having an NMC registrant as a mentor.
“I am concerned that students may fall between the gaps with a range of supervisors, so coordinating the students’ experience will be pivotal”
There are challenges too, though, in providing sufficient practice assessors across all placement areas. Currently some placements have only one mentor, so separating the roles requires us to think differently. For nurse associates, these roles enable growth, taking on the role of practice supervisor for students and to become practice assessors for trainee nurse associates.
The introduction of these new roles is planned as a transition from our current model, ensuring mentors are suitably prepared. I am concerned that students may fall between the gaps with a range of supervisors, so coordinating the students’ experience will be pivotal, especially with the removal of the requirement for 40% of a student’s learning in placement to be spent with a mentor.
We also need to ensure that where there is a model for practice assessors in each placement, which is being widely adopted in my region, we don’t recreate the ‘fail to fail’ situation in which assessors only take action with weaker students at the end of the year or course; this would perpetuate issues that research and literature have identified.
Support for practice assessors from the academic assessors may help to reduce this risk, but it will also require commitment and courage from those in assessor roles.
Key to all this change will be support for all roles, especially in preparing existing mentors and giving them confidence for their new roles. We can recognise that any transition is unsettling, but if we commit to creating placement models that are clear to students and staff and prepare the way as much as we can, risks can be minimised and changes can become enlightening opportunities.
Further information is available on the NMC’s website.
Dr Jan Royal-Fearn is lecturer in mentorship, University of Derby