Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

5 The importance of your relationships with others

Nurses may engage in two very different types of mentoring relationship.

The first is often found among more experienced members of the nursing profession, who seek out another experienced colleague to act as a support and sounding board for their career development. These informal relationships may last for a year or longer, but typically reach a natural point of conclusion when one or both members of the relationship feel that there is no further gain to be achieved.

The second is the relationship between mentor and nursing student. This has defined start and finish points, and typically lasts for considerably less than a year. Whether you are in a mentoring relationship with a colleague or with nursing students or both, each will open you to new experiences and learning of your own. Whether you are inexperienced as a mentor or have some experience in the role, you will continue to benefit from the support and guidance of more masterly colleagues, so do seek out your own support networks.

Activity 7 Identifying and building your own support network

Allow 20 minutes

Watch the interview with Charlie Austin, a practice development nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. She describes the types of support for mentors that her own organisation has already put in place along with ideas for other types of support that might also prove useful.

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Fiona Dobson
So Charlie, you’re a practice development nurse at the Evelina at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London. Can you tell me a little bit about the practice development nurse role?
Charlie Austin:
Yes, it’s quite a varied role. We work in a team of three and we look after the development from all bands of nurses. So from Band 2 for the nursing assistants up to sort of Band 7 and we look at their continuing professional development. So the academic modules that they can do as well as other things. So we set up study days. We do simulation. We write competencies as well as assessing people with competency. Lots and lots of different things. I’m involved in recruitment at the moment as well so it’s quite a varied role.
Fiona Dobson
And part of that role is about sort of supporting and developing mentors too, isn’t it? So how is your involvement with that?
Charlie Austin:
I look at identifying the people that are newly qualified at the appropriate time for when they would be appropriate to undertake the mentorship course so they have got enough experience from their preceptorship period.
We also look at people that are keen to do it. And also as part of their continuing professional development, where they do it as well so they get the right credits.
Fiona Dobson:
Excellent. So it’s quite, you know, responsive isn’t it really to their needs. And what about the supervisors who are actually supporting the trainee mentors? And what sort of things have they found particularly helpful?
Charlie Austin:
I think they’ve got a lot of support in their ward area. So there’s a key mentor in each ward area. They are also supported by the clinical educator in each ward area. So there’s that level there. And then we can come in as a more management kind of support and a link between the universities or the other staff that can be involved.
We have practice educators involved. There’s mentor zones on each of our university websites as well as a lot of information on our Trust website for people being a mentor as well as training to be a mentor.
Fiona Dobson:
And what happens once a mentor’s actually qualified? What sort of support’s available to them then?
Charlie Austin:
There’s quite a lot of support available. The key mentor will try and allocate them a first year student for their first mentoring experience. So it’s quite a nice lead in to it really. And as they get more experienced they can develop those skills with students further down the programme.
We have a Pan London document so that makes it easier because they’re all assessed on the same document rather than lots of different ones from the different universities. There’s the key mentors there to support them as is the clinical educator. But if they have any difficulties they can come to ourselves. There’s also the practice educator team and there’s other Trust-wide initiatives. There’s a generic email that they can email to get support as well. So there’s quite a lot out there.
Fiona Dobson:
There is, absolutely. And I know you’re involved in identifying a sign off mentor. So what sort of things influence your decisions there?
Charlie Austin:
We would look at how much experience they have as a mentor. How many students they’ve mentored. How positive those experiences have been. We’d want them to have some management experience, so within their ward area, may be just taking charge of the ward.
We’d also really want them to be keen to do it because it’s quite a challenging role. And it is a responsibility. So it’s better if they really want to do it.
Fiona Dobson:
Yes, it’s so important isn’t it, being a sign off mentor. It’s a real responsibility. And what sort of things does your Trust do to prepare the sign off mentor?
Charlie Austin:
There is some face-to-face study time for sign off mentors. And then they have to create a portfolio that then gets signed off and then they become a qualified sign off mentor.
During that time they will be supported and there is a guide to what the sign off sessions for a sign off student are. So the student sign off mentor can use that as their guide for doing their face-to-face meeting times.
Fiona Dobson:
So again lots of support for them. Thank you for sharing those experiences Charlie.
Charlie Austin:
OK, my pleasure.
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Now develop an action plan for yourself that shows how you plan to address your own ongoing need for guidance. This could include identification of a personal mentor, who will continue to offer you support and feedback as your mentor role develops.

If you have identified a personal mentor, you could share your action plan with them and seek advice about other useful contacts within your organisation. Add these to your plan if they sound useful to you.

There is an increasing awareness of the support that is needed by mentors to enable them to deliver their mentoring role effectively, so you may be surprised by the opportunities that are available to assist you in forming your own supportive relationships.

You will continue to develop and refine your mentoring skills through practice and experience. At some point it is likely that your manager, a continuing professional development nurse, a clinical educator or another colleague with responsibility for organising and supporting students’ practice learning experiences, will feel that you are ready to become a sign-off mentor.

In preparation for this role you might find it useful to read through the following sections of the NMC (2008) standards [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] in order to understand the purpose of the role and the criteria that must be met before undertaking this role:

Talk to your mentor if you have one and find out how the process of becoming a sign-off mentor is delivered within your organisation. You should add the contact details of the relevant individuals or team responsible for supporting sign-off mentor preparation to your action plan for future reference.


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