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Does being supernumerary hold us back?


Let me start by saying, I completely understand and agree with the reasoning behind student nurses having supernumerary status.

Victoria Robins_SNT

Victoria Robins is in her third year studying mental health nursing

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


Readers' comments (2)

  • I found that I learnt more about the ins and outs of working on an acute ward, working as a health support worker alongside my training than I did as a supernumery student. However the things I did learn as a student such as medication administration, dealing with tribunal reports and other mental health act related tasks I would have been unable to do alongside being an "allocated" member of staff.
    It's difficult to draw a balance between hands on experience and learning opportunities through shadowing to gain experience to then work more independently.
    A good mentor will work from allowing the student to observe their mentor doing tasks to by the end of the placement allowing the students to act independently in the mentors role with the mentor observing where necessary to ensure safety.

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  • I agree and can also empathise with the you because in my experience this status is open to much interpretation which can be utilised in positive and negative ways depending on the setting and the attitude of the mentor. What never fails to amaze me is the fact that mentors do not seem to take into account any previous feedback and comments from mentors recorded in the student's practice records, nor do they seek to actually ask a student about their previous work/life experiences which can often suggest that a student already has a lot of skills that they are able to employ in a student capacity. It seems that if you are a student it is assumed you know nothing about anything and that you have to downplay any skills you may already have for fear of being seen as over confident, or too 'big for your boots' as I have heard said. To be told that you answered the phone 'very well' or wrote up notes well when you have had a previous career and years work experience behind you is insulting. I am speaking as a mature student who would welcome the chance to use my initiative and show what I am capable of whilst at the same time benefitting from the vast experience and that qualified staff can share with me in regards to clinical skills and knowledge. Supernumary does hold students back in many ways but should protect them also from exploitation and spending days and weeks as an extra HCA without the vital time they need to spend with qualified staff learning about all the things a nurse and not a HCA needs to know and become competent in. Also, to me, filing and photocopying is not learning but it's much easier to smile and run off and do it like a good little student than have a mentor potentially writing petty comments about having a negative attitude in your practice book.

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