”Clinical placements could be so much less stressful and more enjoyable if…”
As a personal tutor to a number of undergraduate children’s nursing students, I do hear this statement, in varying formats, time after time.
Clinical placements are an essential part of a nursing students’ training. Each clinical setting is pivotal in providing new experiences, developing skills, and relating theory to practice, but, are students getting the most out of them?
How can we maximise their placement experience and ensure that they flourish within each clinical setting?
I am a realist and do not expect every student to love every single placement, but, I do feel rather despondent when feedback is negative and, even worse, when they have found the placement stressful and unwelcoming.
Reasons are diverse and indeed, every student has a number of different expectations and needs. What may be a very difficult placement for one student may be really enjoyed by the next but, a key fundamental factor appears to be their allocated mentor.
”Nursing students rely on their mentors and other qualified staff to teach and support them within their clinical setting”
A recurring theme seems to be that students perceive their mentor to be ‘too busy’ to provide the required level of support to facilitate the learning that is needed.
This then leads to an increased level of anxiety for the student as they feel as if they are a ‘burden’ or an ‘added stress’ to their mentor’s already huge workload.
The placement experience often becomes negative and the student’s confidence is undermined. A further common factor is that the students do not feel ‘welcomed’ by their mentor – or indeed other staff members.
Surely it is a basic requirement that the mentor knows the student’s name, perhaps their level of training and indeed, that they are actually their named mentor. Of course, I am aware that communication is not always as effective as it may be – and errors do occur within placements.
Perhaps the ward may not be aware they are having the student, but, this has even been raised as an issue by a number of students when they had rung the ward prior to starting, and been given their off duty.
To assist in the development of their clinical skills and to be able to deliver safe, competent nursing care of a high standard, nursing students rely on their mentors and other qualified staff to teach and support them within their clinical learning.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council define mentors as clinicians who facilitate learning, supervise and assess students in the clinical setting and have set standards to support learning within the clinical setting. The NMC places responsibility on the mentor to act as a role model and to ensure that the student is a competent and safe practitioner.
Enormous responsibility and high expectations are often placed upon student nurses. They are required to develop an understanding of compassionate practice and to combine that with nursing theory. They need to achieve in both the clinical and academic setting and often juggle family life and outside commitments alongside unsociable hours and university demands.
“We need to listen to our students and sensure that we take on board their feedback”
Funding is no longer an option and, subsequently, finances are often an added hugely worrying factor. Students are expected to move from placement to placement – often covering a large geographical area while incurring travel costs.
The commitment, exhaustion, knowledge and skills required by our student nurses must not be underestimated. Clinical support and an effective mentor is a crucial factor towards a students’ positive wellbeing and appropriate development.
As academics/clinicians, we need to listen to our students and ensure that we take on board their feedback – just as we expect them to take on board ours.
We can learn from one other, ensure that the student journey is as encouraging as possible – and the transition from learner to qualified practitioner is an experience to be reflected upon positively.
Perhaps some practitioners simply do not enjoy the ever-demanding role of the mentor. That is completely understandable.
Mentors should choose to be mentors because they enjoy this aspect of their role – not simply because they are coerced in to it due to a substantial lack of mentors within a specific area. This issue needs to be addressed separately. We owe it to our students.
Dr Fiona Cust is senior lecturer in children’s nursing, Staffordshire University