Today, I want to discuss two points in relation to student nurse education. (Please bear with me as this has to be a longer blog post today to get the points across.)
It has been suggested by the Government that before an individual embarks upon nurse training that they should spend one year as health-care assistants so that they can learn compassion, care and have a better grasp of the basics of nursing. I would pose a question to you, as one who now work in education. Would you say that in order to train to be a teacher you have to become a teaching assistant first to understand children, their needs and how they might learn more effectively? No-one is suggesting this, so why nurses.
Yes, it can be strongly argued that having some ” grounding” in a care setting is helpful in giving you an edge, a valuable insight and knowing if nursing is for you. I can’t argue against that. I, for one, was a nursing auxiliary for ten months prior to student nurse training. However, many potential student nurses attending interview have done just that.It’s seen as having a possible advantage in being offered a place, if you have worked in, say a care home or as a nursing auxiliary. Yet, certainly when I was nursing ( up to 2010) there was an emphasis on basic-care needs that had to be met in order to pass one’s placement. Teachers learn to be teachers with one years post-graduate qualification after a first degree. Student nurses take three years. I would argue that student nurses have enough time to learn to be registered nurses if the quality of the theoretical and clinical teaching they receive is safe and effective. Any prior experience before this is very desirable but not essential.
This brings me to the second point and a potential flaw in the current system. The clinical teaching and assessment of student nurses is now in the hands of registered nurses themselves, mostly by staff-nurses working in an unit or ward. Many nurses are inspirational and dedicated teachers but many are not. Historically nurses have not been taught to be teachers in the same way that teachers have not been taught to be nurses in school. Teaching is a skill. I must add here though, that in order to be a mentor, nurses have to be qualified for at least one year and then go on to pass a three month teaching and assessing course at level three( degree level). In practice even with this, teaching quality can still be very varied. Personally, I loved being a mentor and felt that I gave the support and teaching that student nurses needed. I was passionate about it and did my very best. Every student nurse knows that a mentor, their attitude towards them and what they can provide in knowledge and experience, can make or break a placement. Every student nurse told me that, and I learned that first-hand again when I was a student midwife.
Also, we now have what is called sign off mentors. So at the end of the students training their last placement has to be signed as passed and fit to practice by a sign- off mentor. This is not a clinical tutor but again a registered nurse. For me this was a half-days training on the paper work and the seriousness of what was being asked of, for those who were doing the signing off. That’s a lot of responsibility and means that the quality and safety of all the placements assessments have to be there, right from the word go!
Mentors know how hard it is to give the time, care and attention to student nurses in a busy and packed ward with stretching workloads and demands on time. Students stick to them like glue as they pursue their work, teaching on the spot and on the job. Most do their best. Lengthy student assessments have to be completed. Standards of assessments are much more rigouress in today’s nurse education. For me, back in the 1980’s, it was four small pieces of paper and tick boxes of accomplishments graded from outstanding to poor, now there are pages and pages of it. I am not saying the tick box was best practice either but I am making the point that, in theory, the standards of education are there but in practice it can vary widely from placement to placement and from one nurse mentor to the next.
Therefore,I would like to see the return of qualified clinical tutors in the work area working alongside mentors, supporting and helping them teach and these tutors easing the workload by taking charge more of the students and directing them in clinical area activities. Then I believe we can see the clinical quality of student nurse education improve…..
Tomorrow: moving on to being a staff nurse on a ward. What it was like for me. What I did back then and what staff nurses have to do now.