• 09 December 2019
  • 15 min read

Advice from a qualified nurse mentor to student nurses

  • Chloe
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

If you haven't started your nurse training yet you might be wondering what mentorship is. Qualified RMN, Chloe, is here to explain and help you set goals and get the most from your mentor.

Play video: "in the case of student nurses, mentorship is one or two qualified nurses that are kind of assigned to you and are basically there to take you under their wing"

Topics covered in this video

0.37 What is mentorship in nursing?

1.26 I'm a mentor and I love it

2.22 Actually, mentors are now called practice supervisors and practice assessors

3.02 What does a nurse mentor / practice assessor do and why do we have them in nursing?

4.34 Please be patient with us mentors - we don't know everything!

6.01 Try to meet your mentor at least once every two weeks

6.13 Have a think about goals and set them

7.52 Communicate with your mentor

9.11 You learn best if you do it, not just watch your mentor doing it

10.09 Be clear with your mentor about your preferred method of learning

10.58 What to do if your mentor isn't the right person for you

12.28 If you don't get on with your mentor, tell someone

14.16 Conclusion

0.37 What is mentorship in nursing?

So, this time that we are going to be talking about mentorship. If you're already a student nurse, this is probably something you're quite familiar with. But if you haven't started your training yet, you might be wondering what on earth I'm talking about.

So I thought I'd really quickly kick off with some basics just in case you have got no idea what I'm talking about currently.

The definition of mentorship is the guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person within a company or an educational institution. In the case of student nurses, this is one or two qualified nurses that are kind of assigned to you and are basically there to take you under their wing, is how I see it.

It's something that's actually expected of us as qualified nurses, so if you haven't watched any of my previous videos before, I am a mental health nurse and I've been qualified for about 15 months now. So it's something that's in our guidelines. It's something that is expected of me as a nurse.

1.26 I'm a mentor and I love it

Point 5, point 8 of the NMC code says that we, as registered nurses, should support unsupervised students in the delivery of nursing care, promoting reflection and providing constructive feedback as well as evaluating their performance.

I personally love mentoring students. However, you might find that isn't always the case with some mentors unfortunately, so we are going to talk a little bit about that later in the video.

Despite having only been qualified for a relatively short period of time in comparison to other nurses, I've been mentoring students pretty much since the get go.

Initially, I was co-mentoring students alongside a more experienced nurse, and in the last six months, I have been taking the lead with mentoring students.

In fact, I enjoy doing it so much that I've actually recently taken upon the extra responsibility of being student lead for my ward, so it means I'm going to coordinate all of the students coming to placement with us because our previous student lead has moved on to a new job, so I jumped at the chance of becoming student lead.

2.22 Actually, mentors are now called practice supervisors and practice assessors

Now, you may be aware of some recent changes in that the NMC has actually stopped using the word mentor.

They started calling them practice supervisors and practice assessors.

The idea being that pretty much anyone can be your supervisor, but then it's your assessor who completes all your paperwork, signs off your competencies, things like that.

But, everywhere that I have been is still calling them mentors. I don't think practice supervisors and practice assessors kind of rolls off the tongue in the same way that mentors do.

So you might find that in your documentation, that's what they're called, but on the ward, people will probably still be calling them mentors for a few more years.

Yeah, I think it's going to take us a while to get used to the new names.

3.02 What does a nurse mentor / practice assessor do and why do we have them in nursing?

So why do students have mentors?

Support and educate

My opinion of what a mentor should do is support and educate you, push you to do more and to be better and then finally, assess you.

And that reflects what the NMC expect of us as nurses.

Single point of contact for student nurses

They are a single point of contact that you will work with for most of your placements.

Help you set goals

They'll meet with you regularly to work out what goals you want to achieve, what learning opportunities you want to experience, what support you need to do this, and then check in with you throughout the placement to make sure you're achieving what you want to do. And if you're not, working out how we can better support you to make sure that you are.

Escalate your concerns to your university (and don't worry, that's meant to help you!)

If there's any concerns about your ability to learn or your conduct, they might escalate this to either your university's sort of academic advisor, personal tutor or the trust might have an overarching student leads, so that might get escalated to them as well if there are any concerns.

The purpose of this is not to get you in trouble, not to catch you out, the purpose is to support you.

We all want you to qualify as nurses. So if at any point there are any concerns about you and they are escalated, please don't see that as you being in trouble or like you've done anything bad.

We are always going to come from the perspective of looking at how best can we support you to change this, to make this better.

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You'll be assigned a co-mentor too

You'll also be assigned a second mentor or a co-mentor, and this is someone who will step up if your mentor is off sick or on leave. That way, you've still got someone kind of looking out for you and you won't just be left on your own.

The first thing I wanted to talk about in this video is documentation because I will hold my hand up and say that, as a student, I used to get really, really annoyed when my mentors didn't understand the paperwork that they had to fill in.

4.34 Please be patient with us mentors - we don't know everything!

I genuinely believed that part of the training to become a mentor would cover the documentation.

But let me tell you, it's not mentioned at all. A lot of hospitals will also take students from different universities, which means some students might turn up with a certain type of paperwork, but then other students will have a completely different format.

So in hindsight, I can see that, as a student, it was 100% my responsibility to make sure the paperwork was completed properly. Because at the end of the day, it was my paperwork as the student.

Practice Assessment Document... now PAIR

When I was a student, we actually had a paper, what we called a PAD. Practice assessment document, I think is what it stood for, and it was literally a book that I carried with me everywhere.

But now, the trust that I work in, the students that I mentor, they have an online system called PAIR, so it is completely different and until I mentored a student for the first time, I'd never even seen it.

No one had even showed it to me. So now I am that annoying mentor that's struggling to get my head around the documentation.

So if you get a mentor that doesn't know how all the documentation works, please be patient with us.

6.01 Try to meet your mentor at least once every two weeks

If you have the paper format of the documentation, I would recommend going through it every so often and putting sticky notes on pages that you really want to complete soon or things that your mentor needs to sign.

Outside of your initial, midpoint and final interviews, I would also recommend meeting up with your mentor either once a week or once a fortnight depending on how long your placement is, just to have a catch up.

Because if you're on a really long placement that's like 12 weeks long, from your initial to your mid point, that's six weeks, that's a long time.

You should definitely be having proper sort of sit down catch ups more regularly than that.

You don't necessarily need to use this time to get things signed off, although that could be one of the things that you do. You could also use this time to reflect on something that's happened on the ward recently that you found really difficult, or also to reflect on things that you've done really well.

6.13 Have a think about goals and set them

The next thing I wanted to mention is goals and goal setting. So as a mentor, I would expect you as a student to be able to sit down in our initial interview and name a few goals that you want to work towards.

In a video recently, I talked a lot more about things you should do before a placement, so I will link that up there if you haven't already seen it, but I would expect you to have done a little bit of research before you come to placement and have a rough idea of a few goals that you want to achieve.

I can help guide you and suggest some goals that are maybe specific to the area I work in that you probably wouldn't have thought of, but at the end of the day, your learning is your responsibility and you need to come to me with at least a few ideas of what you want to learn because I don't know what you've learned before.

I work in inpatient services, but you might have had predominantly community based placements before, so even though you're a third year student, you might not have a very good knowledge of inpatient services.

So unless you tell me that, I'm not going to know. I'm going to assume that you would know what most third year students turn up knowing.

There's nothing worse than when a student walks in and you sit down for your initial interview and say, "What do you want to achieve on this placement?" And they say nothing.

They haven't got a clue. I think it just really shows a lack of motivation. So make sure you're going into your initial interview with a few goals that you want to achieve.

Maybe there's something that you've just never had the opportunity to do yet or something that you've seen in a previous placement but aren't very confident about it. There must be a few things that you can walk into a placement and know that you want to achieve.

And if it's not possible for you to achieve those things in this placement, then we'll think about that. Maybe you can go and do a spoke somewhere else so you can achieve it. If I don't know, I can't help you.

And your goals could be really basic things. To do more injections, to be able to give a handover to the next shift, to have more confidence when speaking in MDT meetings. It doesn't need to be anything groundbreaking, but you need to give me something to work with.

7.52 Communicate with your mentor

Along the same kind of lines, communicate with your mentor right from the start. My personal preferred way of working with students is to let you do as much as possible for yourselves.

I used to hate working with mentors where you would just sit behind them and watch them typing on a computer, because I don't think you learn anything like that.

So for example, because I work in mental health, when a new admission arrives, if they're detained under the Mental Health Act, there is a lot of legal paperwork that comes with that and we need to fill in paperwork to show that we've accepted those papers.

So what I will quite often do is give the student the papers, give them a blank copy of the form we need to fill in and say, "Work it out for yourself, give it a go."

Because if you fill it in wrong, that's absolutely fine.

It can just go in the bed. Then once they've filled it in, I'll show them my version and we'll compare them.

We'll look at what they did right, what they managed to figure out for themselves, and maybe something that they did wrong or they filled in the wrong section or they signed the wrong bit.

Personally, I think that's the best way to learn, rather than just watching someone else fill in the paperwork because then you're not having to go through the thought process by yourself.

Another similar example, again, sometimes working in mental health, we need to call an ambulance for people if they're having a physical health crisis.

Because even though we're a hospital, we can't deal with physical health emergencies.

So I will usually give a student a quick briefing before the phone call of the really important information they need to make sure they get across.

And then I'll say, "There's the phone, ring 999."

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9.11 You learn best if you do it, not just watch your mentor doing it

And then I'll sit with them and if there's anything major that I think they've missed out or they've got wrong, I'll scribble it down on a piece of paper so they can see it and leave it to them. I will try my absolute hardest not to take over unless there's a major reason why I need to.

And then once it's done, we'll have a debrief afterwards. Talk about how they were feeling, what they think went well, what they think they could have done differently.

Now, I'm very aware that this wouldn't work for every student, but if we don't have that conversation right at the beginning, I'm not going to know that.

For example, some people might prefer to watch me give handover a couple of times before they do it themselves or watch me administer medication a couple of times before doing it themselves.

Whilst that's not how I learn, if that's how you learn and that's what you'd prefer, tell me. Either way of learning is absolutely fine, but if your mentor doesn't know what works for you, then they can't support you in the best way that you need.

If someone just saying, "Right, give this a go yourself and see what happens," gives you way too much anxiety and you freak out and you don't think you can handle that, then that's absolutely fine. Just because that's how I learned, doesn't mean that's how all of my students learn and I'm very aware of that.

10.09 Be clear with your mentor about your preferred method of learning

And at the end of the day, I don't want you to be wasting time not learning in the right way because there is so much for you to learn as a student, there's no point in us wasting time and you doing things in a way that doesn't help you.

The same goes for if you've got any kind of disability, anything that's going to make placement or learning harder for you. If it's something quite personal, it might be a little bit difficult for you to discuss that with us and I completely respect that.

I don't need to know the ins and outs. I don't need to know your life history, but I do need to know if there's going to be something that might affect the way that you learn or affect your experience with us in placement.

And maybe I won't know the answer of how to best support you either, but my will know who I can ask so I can get the help to support you in the right way. I want every student that I meet to succeed, but if there's something going on in your personal life, for example, that's going to make that harder, unless I know about it, there's nothing I can do.

10.58 What to do if your mentor isn't the right person for you

And then the final thing I wanted to mention is what should you do if you've got a mentor that just really isn't very helpful or a ward that just isn't supporting you in the right way?

I was quite fortunate in that I had pretty good mentors all the way throughout my placement.

My first placement was a bit of a disaster because both my mentor and my co-mentor were either on holiday or off sick for most of my placement, but luckily, other nurses stepped up and really helped me.

The key thing there is just to make people aware. If the ward manager, for example, might not deal with students at all, so they might not realize that the two people that are currently off sick are the two people you've been allocated, so just let them know and they'll be able to allocate you someone else that can help you.

You CAN also work with other nurses too!

And side note, it's well worth remembering that just because you've got one or two mentors allocated to you, doesn't mean that you can't work with other nurses. Most people are going to be more than happy to support you and help you wherever they can even if they're not your mentors.

I did also have one really bad experience with a mentor where I was in a community team where she was the only nurse, so it kind of meant that I didn't really have the opportunity to work with other people as much.

I had to work with her for the majority of my placement and she just wasn't a very nice person. I didn't learn the way she wanted to teach.

Like I said, she wanted to teach where she did things and I sat and watched, and despite me repeatedly telling her, "This isn't helpful for me," she didn't care and she was just really quite nasty to me.

She was very, very negative.

I could have done nine things really, really well, but she would pick up on the one out of 10 thing I hadn't done well and would absolutely hammer me for it. And I used to go home in tears most days after placement.

12.28 If you don't get on with your mentor, tell someone

First off, let me reassure you that, as I said, I worked with a lot of nurses during my three years as a student and she was the only one that I ever had that experience with, so please don't think that it's going to be commonplace.

Also, I didn't handle it in the best way. What I should have done is spoken up and got support.

You will have either a link lecturer, a personal tutor, whatever you want to call them. You'll have somebody at your university that is supposed to be supporting you in placement.

If there are issues, contact them. They can come in and speak with your mentor, speak with the team you're working in, work out what's not working and support you to make it better.

If there's someone else in the team that you do really get on with, maybe speak to them and just say, "What do you think I could do differently to get on better with this person?"

Because there's always going to be people you don't get on with. The key is not letting that affect your learning.

Another thing you can do is go to that ward manager or that team manager and just explain the problems you're having. Again, they're going to want you to succeed as well.

After placement, students will often fill in a feedback form and they're not going to want negative feedback about their service because if they get feedback that says, "This student had a horrendous time, didn't learn anything and hated every minute of their placement," that's going to look bad on them.

So speak to the manager and just explain the issues you're having and ask if they can give you any support.

They might be able to be sort of like a mediator between you and your mentor to work out why it's not working and what you can do to make it better. It is an uncomfortable conversation to have and that's why I didn't do it, because I just didn't want the conflict.

But, I really, really regret it now because that was my only community mental health placement. I had one other community placement, but it was drugs and alcohol, so it wasn't focused on mental health and I didn't learn anything from it.

And now, as someone who works in inpatient services but would potentially like to consider going into community at some point, I feel really unable to do that because I don't feel like I have the skills and I don't feel like I know what even happens in a community team because I never had a community placement where I learned enough about that role.

14.16 Conclusion

So essentially, these are the two key things that I want you to have taken away from this video.

Communicate with your mentors

Communicate with your mentors, because if they don't know, they can't help you.

Speak up if you don't get on

And the second thing is that if you don't get on well with your mentor and things just aren't going the right way, you're not learning enough, speak up.

Speak to the ward manager, the team manager, your personal tutor, your academic advisor, whoever is, explain what's going on and make a plan to make it better.

So yeah, that's everything I wanted to mention in this video. I really hope you guys enjoyed it.

Watch more videos by Chloe

View all videos by Chloe

Recent videos:

How to fully prepare for your first nursing placement

Overcoming Nursing burnout and building our resilience against it

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About the author

  • Chloe
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse (RMN) in August of 2018 and started as a newly qualified nurse shortly after. On top of nursing I juggle creating content for both my YouTube channel and blog.

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  • Chloe
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

About the author

  • Chloe
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse (RMN) in August of 2018 and started as a newly qualified nurse shortly after. On top of nursing I juggle creating content for both my YouTube channel and blog.