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What makes a good nurse mentor?

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A good mentor can have a profound effect on student nurses and their progress

Looking past the fact that student nurse mentorship is a great badge on a CV, guiding a student nurse on his or her path to registration can be immensely fulfilling. However, the undertaking can be challenging - placing a novice-level student nurse into an already assembled team, while encouraging their confidence, can be quite a feat. How can one navigate this process successfully?

As student nurses are placed in a variety of specialties, it’s important to show them fully what yours has to offer. We spoke to student nurses from Keele University to find out what mentors can do to help them make the most of their placements.

Third-year student Lauren Dowd found that to accomplish this, the best quality a mentor can have is enthusiasm. Many students find this as important as the nature of work performed on the placement.

“One of my mentors made me want to go into their specialty because they’re just so inspirational and passionate,” says Ms Dowd.

Others note that inclusion in procedure and encouragement to step out of their comfort zones is also essential to mentorship. “You have this tight-knit group that does things one way,” says Richard Bagnell, a third-year student in the mental health field. “Then you have this new student, and you have to integrate them into the team. My best mentors have pushed me to ask for more responsibility in that team.”

Providing support

Although some students have to ask for more responsibility, others have too much thrust upon them. Ms Dowd says she was glad that her mentor was aware when she became overwhelmed.

“I had a placement in intensive care,” says Ms Dowd. “Because I’d already done a placement there in my second year, they expected me to know what I was doing and put me in positions I shouldn’t have been in. My mentor helped me get out of it.”

Second-year student Francesca Surrell says her responsibilities were made even clearer by regularly communicating with her mentor. This helped her make sure she was meeting her goals. “In my first year, I had a really supportive mentor,” says Ms Surrell. “She still keeps in contact and asks how I’m doing. It was just amazing for a first year to have that support.”

Furthermore, communication from the mentor to the student about patient wellness and progress can also have a profound effect. Many students need that closure to ensure emotional stability as well as to encourage them to continue their hard work.

First-year student in the children’s nursing, Sebastian Meighan-Davies, had an experience with an emergency where he was present for part of the procedure. “It was an emotional rollercoaster the whole day after that,” he says. “I was scared; I didn’t know how things would turn out. When my mentor told me the patient made it, I cried tears of happiness. She knew I needed to hear how it went.”

Inspiring confidence

Mr Meighan-Davies’ anecdote shows how one small comment can make a huge difference in a student’s day.

“Confidence is a big thing,” says Mr Bagnell. “My mentor always points things out to me. When she points out something I’m doing well, that’s so encouraging.”

Ms Surrell had a similar experience. “After a long day of placement,” she says, “my mentor praised me and showed me what it’s all about - the celebration of good patient care.”

Finally, many of the students agree it’s important for mentors to help students deal with perhaps the most difficult occurrence on the ward: death. Although inevitable, it is an emotionally taxing experience for anyone involved. Amber Flanders, a second-year student nurse, says her mentor helped her navigate her first experience of death. “My mentor taught me how to treat the body and how to talk to the relatives. I learnt to grieve not as a friend, but as a nurse.”

These students note enthusiasm, communication, emotional support and encouragement as qualities they have found essential in their mentors. When a mentor does an exceptional job, they just might inspire students to walk their footsteps, like Mr Meigan-Davies: “I’m so inspired by my mentor, I want to become one. I want to give something back for all the help they’ve given me.”

Jessica Boddy

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Readers' comments (1)

  • there are many books to prepare mentors before they qualify but personal attributes such as enthusiasm ,good listening and planning skills and communication skills are a must as well as being aware of how not to be a toxic mentor. It should be a positive experience from for the student as they are our future

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