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'The student-mentor relationship is a two-way relationship'

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Placement experiences can vary greatly among student nurses for a number of reasons.

Placement areas, mentors, other members of staff and the student’s personal life are just a few of the factors that can have an impact on the placement experience.

Throughout this blog I intend to explore my own personal experiences on placement as a student children’s nurse, including reflecting on what I feel works well, and what I feel could be improved upon.

Starting a new placement is something that I have to undertake regularly throughout my training. This can create numerous challenges and heighten my anxieties, but it can also teach me many valuable skills, while providing the breadth of learning that I require to become a competent practitioner.

When starting a new placement, my general expectations are rather simplistic – I want to be welcomed by staff members, supported to learn, and to be given the opportunity to extend my knowledge and skills.

These expectations are however combined with a number of apprehensions. I often find myself feeling anxious about how welcoming the staff members will be, in particular, my mentor. The challenge of a new ward, new skills, different paperwork and different expectations can be daunting.

However, I do find that preparing for placement is imperative in reducing some of these anxieties. Ringing up prior to starting a new placement is one of the most important things to do, as it allows for a range of vital information to be obtained. I also ensure that I have my placement booklet with me at all times, and that I have filled out any sections that I can, to make things easier when on the ward.

”It is important for mentors to delegate tasks”

Further to this, I sometimes do a test drive to my placement area to figure out the best route and how long the commute will take me.

I also have a number of expectations of my mentors. Mentors are used in all nurse training and are generally required to organise student activities, support and supervise students, set objectives, and assess performance.

As a student, I expect mentors to be welcoming, to be aware that I will be starting my placement with them (and that they are my named mentor), and for them to orientate me to the placement area by showing me around.

First impressions really do count. I also expect my mentors to discuss with me what I want to achieve form the placement and how we can do this together, as a team. I am keen for my current experience level to be acknowledged, including what I am already confident in doing and what I may need some guidance on.

I feel that it is important for mentors to delegate tasks to me and involve me in all responsibilities of the nurse where possible – to ensure that I am gaining the most out of my placement experience.

In addition, my placement booklet is important in providing evidence of my progress and work throughout my placement, so it is important that mentors are willing, and able, to complete this.

I have had some positive experiences with mentors. Some have been keen to for me to be involved, to be an integral team member and the majority of time I really feel as though they want me to learn – I feel valued.

When reflecting upon my positive experiences, I have found that my mentor has taken the time to discuss my learning and progress at the allocated interview points. This is helpful in identifying the areas I am doing well in, but also the areas that may need some more practice. My mentors often make an effort to integrate me into the team and introduce me to different staff members.

However, there are some areas that I feel, require some improvement. For example, I have had some experiences in which I have felt that perhaps mentors aren’t as eager for me to learn and so less willing to teach me new things or to get me involved in different tasks.

I do understand the importance of facilitating my own learning but the support from a willing mentor assists greatly in building a student’s confidence. I often reflect upon whether this may be their own insecurities but do find this rather disconcerting and disheartening.

In addition, sometimes I find that mentors are not aware that they will be having a student, despite me ringing prior to my arrival to confirm my attendance. This can be quite awkward for both myself and my mentor, and may start the placement experience off on the wrong foot. It certainly does not make me feel as if I am welcome, valued or will be a accepted as a team member.

Further to this, when discussing thoughts on mentors with other fellow student nurses, we all tend to agree that mentors can sometimes get on with tasks by themselves, without informing the student or asking them if they would like to get involved.

This is not so much of a problem towards the end of the second year or indeed the third year of training, when confidence levels have increased, but I found this particularly hard to adjust to as a first-year student. This may simply be because the mentor forgets to ask for their student’s involvement; perhaps they are not used to having a student, or it may be a particularly busy shift.

To build a good working relationship and to feel as though my mentor wants me to progress and learn, I think that it is important that mentors discuss what they are going to do and also for mentors to ask me to join in, where appropriate.

”Both mentors and students need to be friendly and open”

Relatively simple tasks such as drawing up medications, making phone calls or writing notes, could be a useful and straightforward task for a student to be involved with. It may even assist my mentor with their workload.

Another area for potential improvement would be the willingness and confidence of mentors in filling out placement documentation.

As students we do tend to get a little precious about our placement booklets and it reduces anxiety if we can be reassured that the assessment has been undertaken and recorded correctly.

A good working relationship between students and mentors is vital in reducing anxieties and making the placement experience more enjoyable for both parties. For this to happen, both mentors and students need to be friendly and open; to be willing to work alongside one another and to have a mutual respect for one another.

Mentors need to be able to work under pressure while also taking into account the learning needs of the student and how these can be achieved.

Students should be punctual, eager to learn, inquisitive and proactive in identifying experiences which are applicable to their level of competence. Mentors should then be willing to assist in the facilitation of this.

Overall, it is important to recognise that the student-mentor relationship is a two-way relationship, and requires both parties’ input and effort for it to be successful.

Francesca Cedolin is a nursing student at Staffordshire University

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