Unpublished research from the University of Hertfordshire shows that nurse mentors are still “failing to fail” poor students, seven years after the issue was first raised.
In 2003 the Nursing and Midwifery Council published research by Kathleen Duffy entitled Failing to Fail, which showed mentors were passing students they thought actually should have failed. That research eventually led to the NMC issuing revised guidance on mentoring in July 2008.
Many felt they should give students the ‘benefit of the doubt’
But seven years on from the original research, a study lead by University of Hertfordshire senior lecturer Louise Lawson shows the problem has not gone away.
Ms Lawson spoke exclusively to Nursing Times about the findings from her research which corroborates Nursing Times’ own survey results.
The research was based on interviews with over 300 nurse mentors. A quarter said they did not feel confident in managing challenging behaviour and poor performance by students. This figure tallies with the 37 per cent of Nursing Times readers who said they had passed poor students and 31 per cent who said they did this because they knew the university would only overturn a fail.
Ms Lawson told Nursing Times: “Many of the mentors I interviewed told me it was difficult to fail a student. Doing so is both time-consuming in terms of the paperwork but also emotionally difficult.”
“Many felt they should give students the ‘benefit of the doubt’. But doing that cannot be in the best interests of patients.”
Mentors also found it difficult to create and maintain professional boundaries between themselves as mentors and their students, she said. “They have a relationship with the student and they are often counted as a part of the team and they might socialise with them, which makes it difficult to fail them,” she added.
Through her research Ms Lawson found that mentors commonly had problems knowing how to deal with personality clashes, emotional blackmail, poor personal hygiene, aggression, punctuality and learning difficulties such as dyslexia from their students.
Why mentors pass poor students
“Sometimes I have only observed or assessed a competency once before signing it off – [it’s] impossible then to say [they are] ‘consistently able’”
“I have witnessed a ward manager passing someone who was, quite frankly, dangerous, because she didn’t want to deal with the paperwork”
“The university applies huge pressure to staff who fail a student [and they] tend to pass the failed student on mitigating circumstances, so [failing them] is generally seen as pointless”
“It is far easier to pass a student than it is to fail them. I felt I was the failure”
“I was bullied into signing off learning outcomes and then my comments about attitude and competence were ignored by the university”
Nurse mentors still 'failing to fail' students