Mentoring is a two-way street. Here’s what you can do to make sure you get as much out of the relationship as possible
Get off on the right foot
A positive attitude counts for a lot. If you demonstrate to your mentor that you have a thirst for knowledge and self-improvement, they’ll want you to succeed and will do everything they can to help you. With this in mind, try to visit your mentor a week or so before your placement starts to introduce yourself and show you’re keen. When the placement starts, make sure you’re always on time, appropriately dressed, with long hair tied up, fingernails clean and polish free, and ready to work and learn.
If your personality clashes with your mentor and you just can’t get on, don’t despair. Newly qualified nurse Katrina Rowan advises talking to your buddy mentor, if you have one, or going to your university for help.
Make a plan
As part of your placement, you should have been given a set of learning objectives. Discuss these with your mentor early on to make sure you both understand what is required and to help focus both your minds on the key competencies you should be getting up to speed with. Ask your mentor to explain anything you don’t understand and help you make a plan for reaching your goals.
Gill Robertson, student officer at the RCN, says: “Show [your mentor] your workbook and tell them what you need to do to complete it, and then ask them how you will achieve that.”
Get stuck in
Don’t turn your nose up at tasks that seem difficult, dirty or menial. They will all help you learn. And if you volunteer for them enthusiastically, it’s likely you’ll be offered some more interesting jobs as well.
Don’t just focus on the practical side of things. In your free time, read journals and books that are relevant to your placement. This will give you a good grounding in theory and research that will round out your experience.
Newly qualified nurse Katrina Rowan says: “It always impresses your mentor if you’ve done some reading and are prepared.”
Ask for help
Don’t forget that you’re a student and your first responsibility is to learn. Ask questions that will help you get to grips with what you’re observing and doing. If you don’t know how to do something, ask someone to show you or tell you. If you don’t understand the reason for a procedure, just ask. The more questions you ask, the more you’ll get out of the placement.
But remember your mentor has a job to do too. Ms Robertson says: “As a student, you must respect that the mentor’s time is precious. Make sure if you are spending time with a mentor that you focus on what you need to learn, and ask them for information concisely.”
Your university will probably ask you to keep a record of your learning to help you reflect on what you’ve done. Don’t let this slip. Keeping a journal will remind you of all you’ve done - a reminder you might need when you’re feeling daunted by how far you’ve yet to go.
The world is your mentor
Don’t focus too narrowly on your designated mentor. There will be plenty of people to learn from on your placement, including other nurses, healthcare assistants, receptionists, and others. Seize every opportunity to learn.
Ms Robertson says: “Students need to get into the mindset that they don’t just have to learn from the mentor, they can learn from everyone - the healthcare assistant can teach them about blood pressure. They can learn anywhere on any part of the job.”