1 What is assessment?
We ‘assess’ continuously in a variety of situations in our daily lives. For example, you may assess what to wear depending on the weather, or what you will buy for dinner depending on dietary requirements, or patient need depending on their presenting and potential problems. However, as a mentor, you will be collecting evidence to support your decision making in the assessment of student competence. This relates to the student’s learning over a period of time and may include an assessment of knowledge and understanding, skills, behaviour, attitudes and professional values, leadership, and team working.
Assessing the students’ learning while they are in practice is one of the most important mentoring roles you will be performing. Assessing a student’s knowledge, skills and attitudes provides you with an opportunity to nurture the student and develop their confidence as a practitioner.
The NMC’s competency framework (2010) identifies generic competencies in addition to field-specific competencies that students must achieve to register as a nurse. Other regulators may have alternative standards and competencies that will need to be adhered to.
Activity 1 Understanding assessment
- When you think of the term ‘assessment’, what is your immediate reaction and what words come to mind?
- Reflect on a situation in your life when your learning was ‘assessed’. This could be a situation at school, work, or within your social sphere. How did you feel before, during and after the assessment?
You may have chosen an examination at school, a driving test, a sports assessment, a continual assessment relating to a probation period or an assessment you were involved with during your own career. In many cases the assessment will relate to knowledge, skills and attitudes – the same components as NMC standards.
Listen to the case study below to see if any of the words or thoughts you identified are shared with the person in this case study.
I remember being assessed by my mentor, who was the senior staff nurse. I was a second year student nurse and completing my ‘medication’ assessment. I remember being absolutely terrified. I had been awake most of the night, constantly revising the potential medications she could ask me about. I was so nervous for days before and dreading the thought that I might fail. I would be so embarrassed to tell my fellow students, and of course all the staff from the placement area would know that I was a failure. I had heard many horror stories from friends and colleagues relating to students who had failed this assessment.
I felt physically sick that morning of the assessment and couldn’t eat breakfast. My mentor asked me if I was ready, and my throat felt so dry I could just about nod. All prior knowledge I thought I had inside my head seemed to have disappeared – however, once we got started, things came back to me and I sort of relaxed. My mentor didn’t say anything throughout the whole assessment, but she was watching me like a hawk. Before, during and after I had administered a number of the required medications, she asked me questions and gave me scenarios relating to patients who had difficulty in swallowing, or were unconscious, or who refused to take the prescribed medication, or were in pain. She asked me many other questions relating to mental capacity, storage of drugs, and safety aspects. It seemed to go on forever.
At the end I felt so relieved when she said I’d passed. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and achievement when she said how well I had performed, but I was glad it was over.
Depending on the assessment you identified, you may have had similar feelings to those in the case study. Our own experiences and understanding of assessment can influence how we view our role in assessing others. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of assessment and how it can be used not only to ensure safe and effective practice, but also as an opportunity to promote learning through effective feedback.