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Private Diary of a Practice Supervisor

Updated: Feb 15

I’m going to substitute the term ‘practice assessor/supervisor’ for the word ‘mentor’ for this article just because it’s easier for me to process and write about.. in my day, it was all about who your mentor was.

I think the first and foremost thing you need to bear in mind when you’ve been matched up with a new mentor is that that we are all flawed people. As a student, I was very much of the opinion that qualifieds are close to angels and can do no wrong. Now I’m on the other side I very much know better. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to be the perfect example for you, we get it wrong. We make mistakes and we get stroppy – I’m talking about myself and then just generalising because I believe it to be true. We get overwhelmed, some of us don’t deal with stress very well, sometimes we say or do the wrong thing. It adds a certain level of additional pressure when we’re mentoring students; not only am I responsible for my own behaviour, but I am also now responsible for the behaviour, actions, and learning of another person.

Mentoring students can be challenging because the approach must change for every student. First year, first placement students may need more attention and guidance than their colleagues who are further into the student journey. Ideally, management students should be able to work with more independence, however sometimes they need additional support because they have the pressure of being nearly qualified, and they’re trying to figure out the sort of nurse they are going to become.

I try to start of any relationship with a new student by establishing what sort of experience they have, what they want to achieve, and how they work. They may have worked in healthcare for years and have all the practical knowledge needed for success but are requiring the additional theoretical knowledge to become a well-rounded nurse; or they may have very good theoretical knowledge but have never stepped foot in a hospital before and become quickly overwhelmed by commodes, hoists, and the hospital routine.

It is entirely dependent on the student, but I sometimes disclose early on that I have autism and my social skills can sometimes be affected, so not to take me too seriously if sometimes I appear to be stroppy or rude - nine times out of ten it’s because I’m overwhelmed and I’ll get over myself. Guess what? I may be qualified - but I certainly ain't perfect.

I like to think I’m pretty supportive, and that students know they can come to me with any comments, concerns, and questions they may have and I will do my best to answer and explain.

I like to reinforce that every nurse is different, and we have all developed different ways of working. Contrary to what university may teach, there is not any ‘right’ way of doing things, although I can accept the argument that there may be the ‘wrong’ way. I will, to the very best of my ability, teach you how to do things in different ways – I prefer my own way but as the more-PG version of the saying goes: there is more than one way to stroke a cat. I may teach you certain things that your next mentor will do their best to unteach you, but that’s ok, because we’ve all developed different ways of working in order to fit in to the places where we work – and by the nature of student placements you will be exposed to a variety of settings with a variety of different pressures and constraints.. this gives rise to a variety of different ways of working, and on the whole, that’s ok.

You will undoubtedly see bad practice on your placements because it’s very difficult to deny that such practice exists. It is your job as a conscientious student to be able to discern the difference between a different yet still safe way of working, and outright bad or unsafe practice. Also try to recognise that if you do need to talk through something that you’ve seen, it is ok to bounce ideas off other nurses, tutors, or students to try and figure out the way you want to practice.

Us mentors are very much here to be used and abused, use us a stepping stone in your journey to becoming the best nurse you can be. Remember that we are people too, and we all started off where you are – some of us more recently than others. There is good and bad in all walks of life, focus on what you can learn from all the people you meet and the situations you find yourself in. Find yourself a tribe, stay in contact with mentors who you learned the best from – most won’t mind. In working out what sort of nurse you’ll become, you’re also working out what sort of mentor you’ll become, because one day you’ll have a student following you around and asking you for advice; then you’ll understand the circle of [nursing] life.

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