Debate: Mentors

That this meeting of Congress discusses the recent study which revealed that some mentors are manipulated and even threatened by student nurses they are supporting.

The assessment of students undertaking a pre-registration degrees is made through placements in health care settings where the student is assigned a mentor. The role of the mentor is to support the student as mentor and assessor and they determine whether the student has achieved the right level of skills and competencies required.

A recent and rather shocking study led by Dr Louise Hunt from De Montford University, found that some students behave in a manipulative manner after receiving negative feedback in a practical assessment, in an attempt to avoid failing the placement. The study identified four patterns of behaviour that were used to influence the mentor. They were:

  • ingratiating and emotionally exploitative activities to carry favour, such as bringing in cakes, hugging and crying
  • diversionary tactics by citing factors not related to actual performance, such as personal circumstances or illness
  • challenging the mentor by, for example questioning the competence of the mentor or accusing the mentor of bullying and harassment
  • engaging in open hostility to the mentor including verbal and physical threats, and, in some cases, actual aggressive acts.

Responses to the study apparently suggests that tutors and practice educators have witnessed such behaviour, as have students of their peers but there is a reluctance to acknowledge it.

NHS Education for Scotland, in partnership with universities and service providers, established The National Approach to Mentor Preparation and the practice education facilitator and care home education facilitator roles. These support those mentoring pre-registration students and enhance the practice learning environment using the Quality Standards for Practice Placements.

Although this infrastructure is embedded across Scotland, the quality of mentorship and student experience continues to vary. This raises questions as to whether mentor and assessor is a role for all registered nurses and midwives. As a result, work is underway to introduce methods to select and recruit mentors with the appropriate skills and aptitude for the role and ensure their role is valued.

In Northern Ireland a quality assurance framework, is used to evaluate commissioned nursing education activity each year. The framework was updated in 2016 and contains seven criteria, against which activities are evaluated. The framework was designed with a particular focus on the contribution of commissioned education and development activities to the enhancement of patient and client care through improving the knowledge and skill base of participants.

The NHS Wales Workforce, Education and Development Service recently conducted interviews with Welsh Nursing HEIs (including mentors). It reported the All Wales approach is continuing to be successful and mentors feel well supported.

Mentoring is often absorbed into a mentor’s already full shift and they are responsible for supporting a student whilst facilitating their learning, while managing their own workload and ensuring patient safety. It needs to be acknowledged that time must be set aside for the support of students and that mentors should be given a reduction in their clinical workload.

In a Matter for Discussion proposed by Tracey Risebrow (Suffolk Branch), Congress delegates heard that a study of 31 mentors had found that many had been manipulated and bullied by the students they were trying to support.

The proposed posed a number of questions to Congress: Is this a widespread problem? Have you experienced this yourself or observed it amongst your peers? And what should we be doing to support colleagues?

Zeeba Arif answered by stating that she, as a mentor, had experienced this behaviour and agreed that action needed to be taken.

A number of student delegates spoke in defence of their colleagues. Simon Mackey said that as a mature student, ‘it was hard to listen to’ and that students are here for one reason, to learn. Zara Haddock, a student in Northern Ireland, said that there was no excuse for behaviour like this and ‘we need to be criticised, no matter what’ as this is how we learn.

Stuart Mackenzie, as Congress chair, assured students that the item was not intended by the submitting entity to cause upset, but that the Agenda Committee wanted to engage Congress in an honest and open dialogue.

A common theme was that this was not an issue limited to the student/mentor relationship, but that bullying occurred in every walk of life, and the discussion should focus on challenging all bullies in the workplace.

Also, as the study on had 31 respondents, many speakers questioned whether this could be taken as evidence.

After an engaging debate, the Proposer thanked delegates and stated that the problem didn’t seem to be widespread. She also acknowledged that the survey was limited and the more research was needed, as well as stronger links between HEIs and practice placements.


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14 May 2017 17:30 - 18:00

Location To Be Confirmed


Matter for discussion, submitted by the RCN Suffolk Branch

Page last updated - 04/08/2020