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'The best students are willing to challenge conventional ideas and ask questions'

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We speak Philip Keeley, director of undergraduate education at the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work at The University of Manchester.

Where and when did you qualify as a nurse?

I originally qualified at Clatterbridge Hospital, Wirral as an adult nurse in 1981, and completed my post-registration mental health nurse qualification at Withington Hospital, Manchester in 1984.

What made you want to go into the profession?

It was a last minute decision – I received feedback from friends and relatives that I would be suited to the career. My mother, a nurse, tried to dissuade me.

Where did you practise?

Following a brief spell as an adult nurse at Clatterbridge Hospital, I practised mental health nursing at Withington Hospital. I then moved to Trafford and practised as a community mental health nurse – a role I thoroughly enjoyed.

What made you decide to be a lecturer?

I always enjoyed working alongside student nurses when I was a clinical practitioner – a view that was not universally shared. I was offered the opportunity to fulfil a lecturer-practitioner role at Trafford School of Nursing and thoroughly enjoyed the role. I was lucky to be supported to complete a teaching qualification.

Tell us about your academic career.

Once I achieved my teaching qualification I worked as a nurse tutor in colleges of Nursing in the Manchester area for a number of years. At that time the schools of nursing were located within NHS Trusts. When nursing education moved into higher education I was fortunate to b come part of the University of Manchester, School of Nursing Midwifery and Social Work.

While fulfilling the role of lecturer, I completed a Masters in Health Care Ethics and PhD in Nursing. My contribution to teaching focuses on professional and ethical practice for undergraduate and post graduate students.

In your opinion, what are the qualities that set the best nursing students apart from the pack?

The best students have an enquiring mind, are willing to challenge conventional ideas and ask questions. They also need to have the interpersonal qualities necessary to be a nurse and engage with patients and colleagues. I am always impressed by students who strive for continual improvement in their clinical and academic work.

What do you say to students if they get demotivated?

My response is informed by the nature of the problem the student presents with. Sometimes the best thing I can do is listen to the student and take the opportunity to point out the excellent things he/she has achieved. If there is a particular problem, them we can work together to identify a way forward.

What advice do you offer to students for balancing studying, university and placement time?

Student nurses have a hard time juggling clinical, academic and home life. I am an advocate of students identifying time to rest, exercise and enjoy themselves to counterbalance the demands of the programme.

What’s your best essay-writing tip?

Don’t leave the essay to the last minute, take up the opportunity to submit and receive feedback on your essay plan and use academic literature to justify arguments.

And your best exam revision secret?

Again, don’t leave this to the last minute. Read the academic guidelines in the course unit handbook and listen to guidance from unit leaders. For some people I recommend working in small teams to encourage and support each other.

What is your advice to a student going out on placement for the first time?

To be frank, it is a while since I went on placement for the first time. The Academic Lead for Practise Learning has much more clinical credibility and offers guidance to new students. We provide peer mentoring/peer-assisted support within the School - sometimes the best advice comes from fellow students who are further on in the programme.

What do you say to students who aren’t getting on with their mentor?

It is usually worth spending time listening to the student and discussing what the concern is. I am mindful that clinical mentors do a wonderful job and are true partners in providing the best possible learning experience for student nurses. There is relentless change in clinical areas and I realise that mentors have competing demands for their time. The first step is to ask the student to talk with the mentor about their concerns, however if problems are not resolved additional support can be provided by the Practice Education Facilitator and University Link Lecturer.

What do you say to students who can’t get to grips with a certain aspect of academic study?

It is rare for a student to sail through all aspects of the programme – some students are better at the sciences and others at the social sciences. While essays may be relatively easy for some people they may be challenging for others – the same can be said for examinations. I always advise students to discuss the challenges with their academic advisor to receive personal support to find a way of developing their skills. The school and wider university offer support to students who have particular learning needs.

What’s the most common challenge student nurses find hard to cope with during their time in training? And how do you help them resolve it?

To fulfil the NMC regulations, nursing students need to study for 4,600 hours over three years (2,300 hours theory and 2,300 hours practice) when other students in the university complete 3,600 hours in total. This is a demanding task and students need to manage their time and energy well. A particular challenge for students is keeping going in June and July when all the rest of the students have left for their extended summer break. Clinical mentors, academic advisors, peer mentors and well-planned study days all help to support students during the extended academic year.

If you could only recommend one book to students, what would it be?

I could not recommend just one book. The ideal text varies depending on the subject being studied, for example anatomy and physiology, sociology, mental health nursing.

I actively encourage students to develop their skills to search the university library and support their work by referring to up to date policy and research literature.

Which student nurse are you most proud of teaching and why?

I do not feel as though I can single out one student. I genuinely take pride in all students and their achievements. I value the individuals who struggle academically and strive to complete the programme and work as a nurse in their chosen clinical area as much as the high flyers who progress to leadership roles in clinical and academic practise. I am lucky to work alongside some excellent colleagues within the School who I taught earlier in my career.

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given by your lecturers?

I cannot think of anything in terms of advice. However, I did value their support.

How do you feel about the balance between academic work and placements for student nurses?

In Europe and the UK there is an overemphasis on the number of hours in placements instead of the quality of the learning experience. I would favour a model where students focused on learning outcomes more – in line with the Canadian and US models.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It would be great if we would adopt the Canadian and US models in balancing academic work and placement for student nurses. Having a Clinical Instructor instead of a mentor in the placement area will help the students in getting a better understanding of the practicalities of nursing. A Clinical Instructor who is a Registered Nurse and a member of the faculty does not deal with patients on the ward rather just concentrate on the student's performance and progress, therefore students feel that they are totally supported in their learning.

    I do salute those mentors who spend time teaching and explaining to their students despite of their hectic ward schedule. Carry on doing a good job, you are our role models. What we will become determines the type of mentor we had whilst we're on placement.

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