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'My mentor is too busy'

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How many times do we hear that from student nurses?

Why are our mentors too busy? Why can’t they find the time in their busy working day guiding directing and teaching students?

We all know the answers and yet, with a little imagination and innovation, mentors can provide the support and guidance that students require.

We are all aware of the pressure in the clinical areas both in the acute, community and private sector. Time allocated for one-to-one student and mentor discussions for learning and teaching is a luxury that is becoming harder to achieve.

It is all about ensuring that the student feels valued and part of the team. The mentor provides the student with the opportunities to maximise their learning within a supportive framework.

The teaching doesn’t all have to come from the mentor - a mistake that mentors easily make. Instead let’s try to encourage our mentors to become facilitators of learning. This in itself, along with the student feeling valued, will develop those self-managed learning opportunities that we know exist for the students in our clinical areas and yet the students are not given the guidance to explore areas of additional learning within the clinical area that help them link theory to practice.

For example, a mentor need only spend 5 minutes with a student at the start of a shift, planning and suggesting how they spend the day following handover. This can include giving the opportunity to observe or participate in a ward round, thereby giving the student the opportunity to look in-depth at care management, but also, at communication skills. The mentor can ask the student to identify areas of good and poor communication, linking this to the individual student, then spend time with the speech therapist and understand their role. The mentor can guide the student to interact and discuss with identified patients about their expectations and fears, again building on and enhancing communication skills between the two.

It is not intensely time-consuming; changing our practice from mentors who teach students all day (which in fact can be tiring and very time consuming) to mentors who are facilitators and use the superb resources that we all have access to within the clinical environment, for the benefit of our students’ learning.

Teresa Collins is Education manager Undergraduate Medicine, Faculty Education Office (Medicine), Charing Cross Hospital.

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