The mentoring of students must be a higher priority for those seeking to improve nurse education and the overall quality of care, according to a leading academic.
Sarah Robinson, visiting research fellow at the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London, warned that this vital element of nurse training could be seen as a “soft target” for cash-strapped organisations looking to cut costs.
“Everyone is anxious about quality of care and student nurse education and mentorship is a really important part of that,” she told Nursing Times. “It needs to be high up everyone’s agenda and I am not sure it necessarily is.”
“It needs to be high up everyone’s agenda and I am not sure it necessarily is”
Ms Robinson was the principle investigator on a major piece of research on mentoring, which highlighted a range of issues, including whether the right people were being recruited to become mentors, and fears about the support and training for nurses who do take on the role.
The study involved 37 interviews with senior staff with mentoring responsibility at two London universities and seven trusts.
Ms Robinson said one of the main messages was the sheer complexity of mentoring arrangements.
“Most people think of mentoring as the relationship between the mentor and student, which is indeed the lynch pin of mentorship,” she said.
“But there is a huge amount that underpins it from the both the care side and educational side, all of which takes place within a framework of standards set by the NMC.
“What struck me was the sheer complexity of the number of people and activities involved.”
Findings from the study – published in a paper by the unit – show mentoring arrangements are under pressure from all sides.
“There’s not only pressure on mentors themselves to do a good job but on support people like link lecturers and practice education facilitators,” said Ms Robinson, who said some trusts had already cut practice education facilitator posts.
The study found many nurses training to be mentors did not get the five days protected learning time recommended by the NMC. It also highlighted concern about the proportion of learning being done online.
“How you assess a student’s competence and make judgements about whether they are fit to practise are complex and challenging matters. There was a strong view among our respondents that they need to be discussed face to face and a wholesale move to online was a problem,” said Ms Robinson.
Once nurses became mentors they often did not get enough time to spend with students because of their own workload and often found themselves completing paperwork at home.
The findings come amid the latest effort to improve nurse education and training through the Shape of Caring review, which was announced in May by Health Education England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
It is chaired by Lord Willis, who recently told Nursing Times he had concerns about the quality and consistency of practice placements.