Let me start by saying, I completely understand and agree with the reasoning behind student nurses having supernumerary status.
Before this was introduced, student nurses undertook an apprentice-type role where they learnt mainly in practice and, compared to today, were taught little about the evidence base.
However, during my nurse training I have noticed several discrepancies in interpretation of what student nurses can and can’t do during their practice placements which, as a student, can be a frustrating and even hindering experience.
For a number of reasons, there have been times during my placements where I have been left sitting at a desk, just waiting for an opportunity to develop my confidence, knowledge and skills. I felt as if I was wasting my time, especially on the several occasions when I was asked to assist in irrelevant administrative duties.
A good example - on my first day at a community placement I was waiting to be inducted and the receptionist told me to man the phones for her as her colleague was off sick and she had other tasks to carry out that day. While I do believe it is important for a team to be supportive of each other, this type of incident makes me feel I am being exploited as a student due to my supernumerary status.
Can a student nurse really be prepared to lead a team and manage the responsibility of being a staff nurse when their supernumerary status has prevented them from truly experiencing this during training?
A motivated and positive mentor who cares about your learning is imperative. Particularly in first year, when you have to quickly develop and build your confidence to find opportunities for self-development.
Quite rightly, anyone carrying out nursing tasks should be competent to do so. Yet, some students are unfortunately not being allowed to learn basic tasks because of their mentor’s apprehension, poor mentorship skills or simply their apathy to support their learning journey. This is a sad but true reality for some student nurses. Luckily, these types of mentors are few and far between.
These missed opportunities tend to arise from different nurse and team perceptions of what the supernumerary status really means. This can prevent student nurses from getting stuck in on a basic level, which is pivotal to understand and incorporate the core values of our profession into practice - compassion and caring.
The supernumerary status can help placements provide learning opportunities that will help the student reach their goals. In my experiences as a student, it is a strong mentor-student relationship that makes the supernumerary status work. Mentors and other professionals can safeguard and support students through the various processes and responsibilities that they need to be competent in before qualifying.
For this to happen, everyone involved in a student nurse’s learning journey needs to be clearly informed of what being supernumerary really means.
Victoria Robins is in her thrid year studying mental health nursing at the University of Surrey