Updated: Dec 8, 2021
As the wards are getting jam-packed with Covid patients, you can just feel the stress and fear in the air. Looking at my cardiac ward, the type of patients are starting to shift; no longer are we getting just cardiac but we are getting a whole range. From complex medical patients, to gastro’ and even surgical patients at times, putting a great strain on all of us. Being a non-Covid area makes us open to anything but this doesn't mean to say we are not getting Covid patients too, as this is just unavoidable.
As I get to grips with the changing patient base, and to life as a newly qualified nurse, I also have to face the reality of having a student nurse under my wing now, too. The thought of this is just scary. Am I good enough to do this? Do I know enough? And more importantly, do I have time to teach whilst in the middle of the madness of this pandemic?
I look back at all the mentors that I've had in the past. Some fantastic nurses who have it all; that anyone would look up to and be inspired to try to be even half as good as they were. Then there's the downright horrid person who should have given up a career in nursing. And those who are just not cut out to teach and have no interest in doing so.
Believe me, there is nothing worse than being a student nurse who has to try and find their place within an established team. The feeling of being unwanted by a mentor; turning up on shift and no one wanting to have you, is like being the child in the playground who is picked for the team. It's just not nice.
So, what kind of mentor do I want to be? Definitely not the latter, that's for sure! But let's be realistic, at this moment in time I'm not going to be like the most amazing mentors that I've had in the past, either! They had a wealth of experience in nursing. Although I have experience working within a hospital, I have to remember that I'm newly qualified and I can't expect to know it all. So, I have to aspire to be me. And even though I may be stressed inside at the thought of having a student under my wing, I will continue to don my poker-face and be the best God damn mentor that I can be!
On shift I try my best to be cool and calm in most situations, as I feel panic leads to mistakes. This is what I try to show my students; planning is key to this and even if it gets mental on shift, you have to stay calm. The best laid plans are there to be broken, as they say. This is definitely nursing - calm one minute and total chaos the next (you need balls of steel and some spare pants when shit goes down).
I know that everyone learns at a different pace, and in different ways, but as a mentor you need to get a grasp of where your student is at in their learning. When I first meet a new student, I usually assign them a series tasks to do on shift (like sending them into The Crystal Maze to see how many crystals they can get). This may sound mean but I never give them impossible tasks, I’m always there for support, keeping an eye on them. This helps me to know what they can already do and how I can help them to progress.
This may be daunting for some but its all good experience being let loose (thrown into the lion’s den). I found this the best way to learn. But you have to realise that people are people and they will make mistakes; it’s all part of the learning process. This is where constructive criticism has its place (not like the nurses of old who would tear you a new arsehole for the simplest of mistakes). What went well? What could have gone better and what could be improved? Most importantly, thank them for their help because being a student is hard! Not only are you studying full-time but you give up all your spare time working shifts and racking up debts in the process.
Spending enough time with your student is also hard but just taking that 5 minutes to chat and reflect with them makes the world of difference. As I progress as a nurse I know that I will get better at teaching, since this is all new to me, too. For now, I just try to be me, teach what I know and show them the fundamentals of what I believe makes a good nurse. I must never lose sight of what it’s like being a student faced with lots of challenges every day.
What do I think makes a good mentor? One that is calm and collected; who allows their students to shine and to show their potential. One who helps to build their student’s confidence. More importantly, be nice! Being an arsehole never takes you far in life. Be like that nurse you aspired to be when you were the student and mentoring will be a breeze.