Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Back into breach once more.

This is my last day off. I'm celebrating with gingerbread right now, whilst later on I plan to go out and learn some more dancing the NMC wouldn't approve of.

This post got me thinking on mentors. Mentors, like it or not, build new nurses. University certainly doesn't. University teaches abstract ethics which are applied to theoretical situations (if you're lucky) and informs how to lift boxes and place them down correctly. The fact that we had many sessions on this and only one on how to move a patient? Pretty sad. Anyway. I'll hop off my soapbox for a bit and get on with the issue.

I recently commented on the above blog post in relation to the idea that mentors are overworked and struggle to teach students under their guidance due to this shortage of staff and large workload. I don't mean to say this is bollocks, but it sort of is. Let me elaborate:

I have had many mentors. Well. Five actual mentors so far, and probably about fifteen more who I have worked under due to staff shortages, etc. I have had good and indifferent mentors. Noone I would honestly view as deliberately *bad*, which is certainly a good omen for nursing education, but there have been some who simply aren't that bothered. Like they tolerate you following them, trying to soak up knowledge like some hungry piece of floating plankton, but aren't willing to help.

Were these types overworked? Maybe. But, in the cases I have experienced, they seemed more apathetic. These are the types of people I always guess might sell half of their human rights and civil liberties for a free parking space and this attitude can seep into patient care. Thus: I don't agree with their politics or professionalism. One of my favourite tutors always tells us that, although students should challenge actual bad and dangerous practice, it's more about leading by example with best practice, candor and professionalism. And that's what I try to do.

So, there are the not-so-good mentors. What about the good ones? The inspirational ones? They're worth waiting for, certainly. I'd say, to become part of this elite group, one needs to be knowledgeable and on-the-ball. One needs to be able to say *why* they're doing something (as a good student should always ask). A good mentor also needs to treat a student like an adult. Older, younger: doesn't matter. A nurse I worked with recently spent a lot of the night asking if I was happy with the treatment we were giving. Whether I said yes or no, she'd ask me why. This is proactive and works with me, big-time.

The mentor's job, however, is not to drag a student along. My comments are sort of sullied by the fact that I'm one of those killed cat (read: curious) types who is always asking questions. And to do things, too, or join in on other procedures. I am driven by many things, but one of the driving forces is a sense of disgust and dismay at those nursing students who lean against the nursing station all fucking day, scratching their arses and whining about nothing interesting happening. If a mentor is faced with someone so lazy, disinterested and unsuited to nursing, it must be a challenge.

As a final point, the clinical environment the mentor is based in is important. Standard medical wards are often understaffed and a good student nurse can, under supervision, end up with responsibility for a couple of beds (drugs not included) which is excellent experience. A critical care ward, on the other hand, involves a lot less of that type of responsibility. The student might be more hands-off and student and mentor must be a bit patient (no pun intended).

In conclusion, I refuse to accept that poor mentoring can be blamed on overwork alone. Overwork plays a role, but so does the character and skillset of the mentor, the type of clinical environment as well as the history of student nurses they've worked with.

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