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How to become… a nurse mentor

How to become… a nurse mentor

‘It would be so easy as a practice nurse to stay in a ‘cocoon’ and keep doing the same routine care, but being a mentor means we can question ourselves as we impart nursing skills’ – anonymous nurse mentor

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) states in the Code of Professional Conduct1 that a nurse should share their skills, knowledge and experience for the benefit of people receiving care and colleagues, outlining the four points you need to fulfil to do so:

  • Provide honest, accurate and constructive feedback to colleagues.
  • Gather and reflect on feedback from a variety of sources, using it to improve your practice and performance.
  • Deal with differences of professional opinion with colleagues by discussion and informed debate, respecting their views and opinions and behaving in a professional way at all times.
  • Support students’ and colleagues’ learning to help them develop their professional competence and confidence.

This does not ensure of course that everyone has the desire, confidence or ability to teach. However, we would reason that all nurses are well equipped to become good mentors as they already teach those around them on a daily basis with patients and colleagues. Mentorship training helps to formalise this process and develops the assessment aspect of mentorship.

To become a mentor you need to attend an NMC-approved mentorship course and be added to the local mentor register. Most universities offer a nurse mentorship module, usually lasting one semester. The number of days varies by university but as a guide the academic commitment is usually equivalent to one day per week for around 12 weeks, often comprising of a mixture of classroom teaching, e-learning and portfolio work.

You will need a registered mentor to provide a supporting role and assess your outcomes. Once registered as a mentor, to maintain registration you need to attend an annual update session each year and complete a triennial review, usually done as part of your normal appraisal process.

New nurses can attend mentorship training once they have been registered for one year. Within our area we have found that many practice nurses already have mentorship qualifications from earlier in their career and only require an update and the appropriate support or shadowing opportunities in order to go back onto the mentor register and begin taking students again. If your place of work isn’t already an active placement for student nurses then your local university should be able to advise who can help set this up in your area and will arrange to complete a placement audit with you.

How to become a mentor and maintain mentor registration
  • Complete an NMC-approved mentorship course, available at most universities.
  • Liaise with your local mentor register holder to enter the register. If your place of work isn’t already an active placement for students they should also be able to help you arrange this.
  • Attend an annual mentor update each year to keep up-to-date.
  • Complete a mentoring review every three years, usually as part of your standard appraisal process.

Student nurse placements vary in length depending on the university and their year of study. NMC guidelines require the mentor to be available to the student for at least 40% of the time they spend on placement. Students can also spend time during their placement with other clinicians and linked services, which is a great way of ensuring that they have a varied and multi-professional experience. In our experience mentors may not necessarily need altered appointment times when working with a student, but they will need protected time at the beginning, middle and end of the placement for reviews and completing documentation with the student.

Creating an environment for learning is a key factor in the relationship and should involve as much feedback as possible from students and mentors to identify aspects of the learning environment that can be enhanced. The whole multi-professional team should be involved in helping the students to identify learning needs and experiences that are appropriate to their level of learning. Through using a range of learning styles and experiences involving patients, relatives and other team members, inter-professional learning can truly exist and learning can be a two-way process.

The most important thing is to make learning fun. We feel passionate about primary care, and want to be able to share that passion with student nurses and facilitate them to learn in a different environment to hospitals. Being a mentor for students in primary care allows us to share the learning opportunities of a variety of skills, including chronic disease management, the developing and evolving relationships between families and practitioners, essential health promotion and the evolving delivery of care that is required in modern-day nursing. Students in primary care experience one-to-one mentoring and high quality learning opportunities which has a positive impact on knowledge and skills.2

There are many benefits to becoming a mentor, both personal and as part of the wider picture. For the mentor it provides a good opportunity for personal development, and teaching others helps in keeping up-to-date with current practice. Students often bring enthusiasm and vibrancy to a team as well as two-way learning. It also counts towards continuing professional development (CPD) and material for your NMC revalidation.

What are the benefits of taking student nurses?
  • Provides professional development opportunity for nurses.
  • Brings enthusiasm and two-way learning into practices.
  • Enables nurses to keep up-to-date with clinical knowledge and skills.
  • Gives student nurses the opportunity to experience a quality placement.
  • Is a great recruitment tool.
  • Helps secure the primary care workforce of the future.
  • Helps with NMC revalidation.

In the current climate of a stretched and aging workforce, taking on students in primary care helps to secure an important part of the future workforce. Introducing them to these roles increases the number of students likely to consider primary care as a career of choice post-qualification. Many general practices traditionally train doctors and medical students, so why not train student nurses too? Providing student placements is fundamental to attracting them to work in primary care and in challenging assumptions that there are limited opportunities for career progression in this area.3

We have been involved in the Advanced Training Practice (ATP) scheme since 2009, a Yorkshire-wide initiative funded by Health Education England (HEE) aimed at developing student nurse placements in general practice. In each region an ATP ‘hub’ practice develops links with other local practices to provide support and develop student nurse placement capacity across the area, at the Haxby Group ‘hub’ we cover the East Riding of Yorkshire, Hull, York, Scarborough and the surrounding areas, currently supporting a network of 40 practices and around 90 mentors. We have found it a rewarding experience for nurses and mentors and a great recruitment tool, feedback from students is very positive and our team enjoys working with them. Within our area we have seen an increase in the number of newly-qualified nurses employed in general practice in correlation with the increase in student placements. The number of placements within our local patch has increased from nothing to around 100 annually and growing, in line with this increase 44 newly-qualified nurses have been employed in general practices within the local patch, many of which were students who have found employment post-qualification at their former placement.

We have found great value in developing a local support network for mentors and holding quarterly forums where mentors can share experiences, problem-solve and develop links with other mentors.4 In primary care many nurses work as part of a small team and having this support helps to allay concerns of isolation and increase opportunities for sharing.

We asked our local network of practice nurse mentors for opinions on what makes a good mentor and common themes included: good communication skills, being team-player, having a positive attitude and enthusiasm, having good organisation and time-management skills, and being a nurturing leader. We also asked about their motivation to mentor, and reasons included: passing on their enthusiasm for the role, educating to make a difference in the workplace, desiring two-way learning and keeping up-to-date, sharing the passion for primary care, and the satisfaction of nurturing a student to grow. These comments reflect the findings of Huybrecht et al.5

Debra Smith: ‘As a practitioner who has been involved in training nurses and midwives for over thirty years, I echo the thoughts of the Royal College of Nursing in their Toolkit ‘Guidance for Mentors of Nursing Students and Midwives’ when they state the role as a mentor is critical in helping to facilitate the development of future generations of nurses and midwives.6

‘Passing on your knowledge and skills is one of the most essential roles you can undertake as a clinician, and it can be very rewarding. My enthusiasm never wanes and the benefits far outweigh any possible barriers.

‘Being a mentor gives me the privilege to act as a resource to facilitate personal and professional development of others, along with the responsibility of helping students translate theory into practice, making what is learned in the classroom a reality.

‘My passion for all things ‘mentorship’ has shaped my career and led me to my current role as a lead mentor and support for the Haxby Group ATP hub. This network has provided a fantastic framework for mentorship to develop and for student nurses to experience primary care. I regularly meet other nurses and mentors to exchange ideas, techniques and support.’

Nurses considering what to do next for personal development should definitely consider mentorship, not only for revalidation material but for the personal joy and satisfaction that nurturing students can bring and for the promotion of careers in primary care for the future.

Debra Smith is the deputy head of nursing and advanced clinical practice and Lisa Billingham is the training manager at the Haxby Group in Hull and York


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It would be so easy as a practice nurse to stay in a ‘cocoon’ and keep doing the same routine care, but being a mentor means we can question ourselves as we impart nursing skills.