The mentorship system, seen as the cornerstone of nurse education, is under “considerable pressure” and “facing a diverse range of challenges”, warn researchers.
Mentors have a “sense of the system just holding together”, according to a study by the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust.
Researchers carried out in-depth interviews with 22 staff from two higher education institutes and 15 from seven trusts, all of whom had key roles in providing mentorship.
They were asked about their current ability to provide mentorship, the challenges they faced and their views on its future direction, which the authors noted were a “subject of ongoing debate”.
Mentors identified a wide range of challenges. For example, trust mergers and changes in education contracts had the potential to disrupt long-established and productive relationships between nurses in higher education institutes and their trust-based colleagues, they noted.
In addition, placements and the number of students that could be supported were under pressure from service and team reconfigurations, and a reduction in the number of qualified nurses.
Conflicting demands on time were also becoming “increasingly acute” for link lecturers, who said they regretted the reduction in time they were able to spend in practice settings.
Meanwhile, mentors reported often having to use their own time to meet mentorship standards set by the Nursing Midwifery Council.
The majority of those interviewed thought that the NMC’s standard of students spending 40% of their time working with a mentor was met for “most” students.
But this was only achieved with “difficulty” in some of the busiest settings and could “depend on mentors using their own time to fulfil all the requirements of their mentoring role”.
More challenging still was meeting the NMC standard of sign-off mentors having one hour a week protected time to spend with final destination placement students. This could also depend on mentors using their own time, especially in acute adult and mental health settings.
The authors highlighted that interviewees often had “diverse views” on potential solutions to the challenges and on how the system work in future.
For example, views were split on whether all nurses should be mentors or whether the role should be filled by a smaller group of nurses who had been trained in mentorship as a specialist career pathway and could spend more time with students.
Sarah Robinson, lead researcher and visiting senior research fellow at the NNRU, said: “Our research showed that delivering mentorship in practice depends on a range of trust and HEI personnel involved in a complex network of inter-related activities.
“Although much is being achieved, the staff we spoke to highlighted numerous challenges facing mentorship,” she said.
“Given the centrality of mentorship to the preparation of the next generation of nurses, the challenges it faces and the very diverse views held about future directions – the next stage is for the profession and the statutory body to discuss and debate the findings and develop a blueprint for the future,” she added.
The study is one of a four-part research programme, called “Readiness for Work”, which was commissioned by the strategic health authority NHS London to look into the factors affecting newly qualified nurses in the capital.
As revealed by Nursing Times, another arm of the programme found that ethnicity affected job chances for new nurses.