I have had a number of placements during my nursing degree and with every new placement comes a new mentor.
In my opinion mentors are key to having both a positive learning experience and a positive experience in that placement area. I have been extremely lucky during my training and have had the privilege of working with some great mentors who have added masses to my knowledge and I can definitely credit them for the nurse I am becoming.
Mentors are key to having a positive learning experience and a positive experience in a placement area
Unfortunately not everyone has such great experiences and I have heard many horror stories of rude and unapproachable mentors who don’t seem to enjoy having student nurses to share their knowledge with.
So what should a mentor be doing? According to Coaching and Mentoring: Practical methods to improve learning, Parsloe and Wray (2005), a mentor’s role is to support and encourage individuals to manage their own learning in order to “develop their skills, maximise their potential, improve their performance and become the person they want to be”. I think this is pretty accurate and definitely what I have experienced as a student nurse and what I would expect from a mentor. So what makes a good mentor? Here are my thoughts…
In my opinion one of the most important qualities for a mentor is to be approachable. As a third-year student I have experienced plenty of anxieities along my nursing journey and these have always been eased by being able to share them with my mentor. Being able to tell a mentor an area of practice you are struggling to cope with or a clinical skill you just can’t get the hang of makes all the difference. Not only can this support you in your learning, it helps build an element of trust between you and your mentor. They say a problem shared is a problem halved.
I am not sure about everyone else but if someone else is stressed this makes me stressed even if I have nothing to be stressed about! Other people’s emotions are so easily projected on to those they are working with. I believe that most students (and I just can’t believe them if they say anything different) feel stressed for the majority of their placement; a combination of wanting to impress your mentor and always being the ‘new’ one on the ward make us feel on edge. So if you have a mentor who gets easily stressed out it makes for one very stressed-out student! I will recall a story one of my colleagues told me about a mentor they had who started every shift telling the student she was already ‘stressed out with everything that needed doing that day’. This led my colleague to having an environment that was not conducive to learning…no one would want to stress someone out who was already stressed by asking for support would they?
There is a fine line between being confident and being cocky but a mentor who oozes confidence in my opinion is great. One of my mentors in particular springs to mind; her confidence in her nursing practice and decision-making skills has led to me aspiring to be just like her. I remember witnessing her be an advocate for her patient and challenge a doctor on the patient’s plan of care. Her nursing knowledge shone through and led to the patient’s care being person centred. That’s what being a nurse is all about isn’t it?
I am very proud to be a student nurse and I am passionate about my vocation. I am sure as students we have all come across nurses who say: “If I had my time again I would never be a nurse” or “You must be mad wanting to be a nurse”. It is disheartening to say the least, and I could only imagine how demotivating it would be if a mentor had this attitude too. All of mentors have been passionate about their practice and passionate about sharing their knowledge with me. This has really enhanced my learning experience throughout my degree and made it an enjoyable experience (most of the time).
Having a mentor who is supportive is so important. Feeling supported at a time when you feel at your most vulnerable is priceless. Being a student nurse is emotionally challenging – you can be exposed to some of the saddest and traumatic events in patients’ lives. Having a mentor to support you through that is invaluable. I have spoken previously about my current placement at a hospice and how emotionally challenging I have found this area. If it wasn’t for the continued support and encouragement from my mentor I am not sure I would have survived.