What to expect from your mentor

Hulya Ibrahim is a junior sister on the adult critical care unit at the Royal London Hospital. She tells us why she loves being a mentor and what students should expect from theirs

Being a mentor is incredibly valuable and comes with a huge weight of responsibility. It became really obvious to me during my own training that the experience and quality of learning I had on a placement was largely dependent on my mentor.

So when I qualified, I couldn’t wait to do my bit. I get so much satisfaction from teaching students, not only because I love sharing my knowledge and passion for my job, but also because I know the value of helping students to become the best nurses they can be. Helping to nurture future nurses is good for all of us – and for patients, which is what we all care about really.

To help you get the most out of your placement, I believe a mentor should…

Spend time with you

The NMC guidelines state that students should be supervised by their mentor for at least 40% of their time on placement but I personally like to spend as much time with them as I can. I think it really makes a difference if you’re able to involve students in as much of your work as possible.

Get to know you

It’s important to get to know your student, what they might be worried about, what they’re excited about, and what type of learner they are, so you can make sure they get the most out of the placement.

Encourage you to get involved

There are obviously some limitations as to what a student can do on a placement, especially a specialist one like an adult critical care unit. Everyone comes to us at different stages in their training but I like to give my students as much opportunity as possible to get involved with direct patient care.

Placements provide students with an insight into real life as a nurse. Mentors should paint a realistic picture but should also highlight the many positives of this rewarding profession

Be enthusiastic

I believe mentors should be enthusiastic, not just about your placement and teaching you, but about their job and the wider nursing profession.

Placements provide students with an insight into real life as a nurse. Mentors should of course paint a realistic picture and properly prepare students for this, but they should also get students excited and highlight the many positives of this rewarding profession.

Help you overcome difficulties

Every student has different strengths and different barriers to overcome. It’s my job as their mentor to recognise these and help them work through any difficulties they’re facing or clinical work they don’t feel confident with.

Be approachable

I try my best to be as open and encouraging as possible so that students feel they can talk to me if they have questions, need help or are struggling.

Welcome questions and doubts

On their first day, I always tell my students: “No question is a stupid question.” 

Your mentor should always be happy to answer questions – more than that, I see it as a sign that my student is really engaged with the learning process and keen to get the most out of it.

Take time to debrief

It’s not always possible but I try to spend time at the end of each shift reflecting on what went well and what would be good to work on during the next shift. I think it’s important to keep an open dialogue with my student and keep reviewing progress throughout the placement.

Give you comprehensive feedback

In our unit we do three placement interviews with our students: at the beginning, at the mid-point and at the end. These are really vital points during the learning process and you should come away from these feeling as though you have been given a realistic assessment of your placement as well as been encouraged and praised for the things you’ve done well.

During the exit interview, it’s really important to both be straightforward about the aspects a student should continue working on and also to highlight the things they’ve done well. There are always positives from every placement and a little encouragement can go a long way.

Get the most out of your placements

Hulya’s advice for students is:

  • do some background research about the unit or team and nursing roles there
  • arrive with enthusiasm and a desire to learn
  • come armed with your own learning objectives and questions
  • get involved! Not just with your nursing role but with all aspects of your placement. I encourage my students to spend time shadowing other nurses, doctors and specialty teams so they can better understand not just their role as a nurse but the wider workings of the team and unit.

Pictures by Gareth Harmer

Student member of RCN Council Amy Fancourt was mentored by Hulya last year

She says: “From day one Hulya was welcoming and made an effort to get to know me. It was obvious she felt it important to give students quality teaching within the clinical area and as a result I absolutely loved my placement in critical care. I will be considering it as a permanent place of work once I've qualified.

From day one Hulya was welcoming and made an effort to get to know me

“Hulya allowed me to take on responsibility and not only gave me constructive criticism but also encouraged me to reflect on what I had done well. This positive reinforcement boosted my confidence and made me feel like a valued member of the team. 

“She was also a great role model, always working systematically and calmly even under pressure with complex cases. She taught me how to organise my day and not get overwhelmed by the workload." 

What if I have concerns about my placement? 

If you're concerned about any placement area, notify your personal tutor as soon as possible. You can then discuss your placement experiences and agree on any actions to be taken to inform the appropriate people. It is important you follow the correct channels of communication already established.
 
As part of changes to the NMC education standards, mentors and sign-off mentors are being replaced by practice supervisors, practice assessors and academic assessors. Having a community of supervisors and assessors, rather than relying on any one individual, should hopefully address some of the issues students can encounter on placement.


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