Mentoring: what’s in it for me?

Students and experienced nurses can learn from each other through a mentoring programme

Students and experienced nurses can learn from each other through a mentoring programme

  • Student programme runs events promoting leadership skills in future workforce
  • Cohorts of 50 students are paired with front runners in their disciplines
  • Scheme is for nursing students, midwives and allied professionals who aspire to lead

Picture: iStock

For newly qualified mental health nurse Kelly-Hellen Hitchcock, being mentored has proved pivotal in her career.

‘It’s only when you look back, you can see with hindsight how something has had a major impact on your life,’ says Ms Hitchcock, who graduated from the University of Derby last year and is now working as a community mental health nurse in south Derbyshire.

Nurse Kelly-Hellen Hitchcock.

‘As students we often see nursing as one kind of role, imagining ourselves working as a staff nurse on a ward. But seeing lots of different opportunities has been really influential for me. It’s one of the reasons why I took this job, which is quite an unusual first step. It opened my eyes.’

A nurse first and foremost

Encouraged by her programme leader, she successfully applied to be part of the first cohort of 50 students on the Student Leadership Programme (see box below). ‘It was massively oversubscribed,’ says Ms Hitchcock.

‘It was a fantastic opportunity. When you’re building up your confidence as a student, it helps when someone gets behind you and you can make that leap.’

After a two-day welcome event she was paired with Joanne Bosanquet, then deputy chief nurse at Public Health England (PHE), who has since joined the Foundation of Nursing Studies as its chief executive.

‘When you’re building up your confidence as a student, it helps when someone gets behind you and you can make that leap’

Kelly-Hellen Hitchcock, mental health nurse

Ms Hitchcock admits she initially felt slightly daunted. ‘I wondered how I could work with someone who is so far in advance of me in the profession,’ she says. ‘But then you realise you are similar in what you care about and are trying to achieve. Joanne considers herself to be a nurse first and foremost – and that’s what always comes across to me.’

Mentor Joanne Bosanquet.
Picture: David Gee

Alongside regular chats lasting up to an hour, Ms Hitchcock also shadowed Ms Bosanquet for a day in her PHE role. ‘A lot of what we’ve discussed is how to be political – having influence and making your voice heard,’ says Ms Hitchcock. ‘Traditionally, nursing students haven’t been very powerful and it can be incredibly daunting.’

As well as being instrumental in reinvigorating the nursing society at her university, Ms Hitchcock also sits on the RCN national students’ committee and is involved in the Fund our Future campaign, which is calling for an annual £1 billion to be put back into nursing higher education.

This year she organised a trip for around 80 University of Derby students to visit RCN congress, where she is helping to put on a students’ programme. This includes a session ‘in conversation’ with Ms Bosanquet in which the two discuss the benefits of mentoring.

Find out more about the programme of events at this year’s RCN congress

‘For me the programme has been life-changing,’ says Ms Hitchcock. ‘I wouldn’t be in the place I am now if it hadn’t been for Joanne.’

But it’s far from a one-way street, says Ms Bosanquet. ‘I’ve seen a huge amount of benefit for the student nurses I mentor, and it’s shared,’ she says. ‘I get just as much out of it as they do.

‘It’s extremely important that we engage and share our experience with up and coming nurses’

Joanne Bosanquet, chief executive of the Foundation of Nursing Studies

‘For me, this is part and parcel of what I do. I think it’s extremely important that we engage and share our experience with up and coming nurses. I see myself as a guide.’

One particularly memorable session centred on the planning of a Christmas lectures event, hosted by Derby University’s nursing society. ‘I was geared up to give Kelly lots of advice and tips about running events, but she’d thought about almost everything I said to her. It was phenomenal,’ says Ms Bosanquet.

RCN congress 2019: your quick guide to what’s on the agenda

Insight on politics

But she was able to offer expert insight on managing internal politics. ‘Kelly hadn’t really considered the management structure within the university,’ she says. ‘I could share my knowledge about the infrastructure, making sure the event was as visible as possible. That political intelligence will continue, benefiting her throughout.’

There were disagreements too. ‘But they were healthy,’ says Ms Bosanquet. ‘Kelly is very sure about what she wants. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree, then move on, and actually that shows great leadership. She’s a sponge, absorbing everything. I admire her energy and positivity, and that she’s a risk-taker. I’m excited to see where her journey takes her next.’

Tips for nursing students

Remember that confidence doesn’t come overnight, says newly qualified mental health nurse Kelly-Hellen Hitchcock. ‘It builds gradually, but challenge yourself and try to overcome your anxieties or you don’t give yourself the chance to learn and grow.’

Grab your opportunities. ‘When something comes along you don’t necessarily know where it will lead, but it could be a new direction, a different challenge or meeting new people. There’s always something to be learned,’ says Ms Hitchcock.

Get to know yourself well, advises Foundation of Nursing Studies chief executive Joanne Bosanquet. ‘Then you’re much more likely to be the authentic you, which gets you through good, bad and challenging times. You’re sure of who you are as a person and what drives you.’

Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be through a formal programme such as Student Leadership, says Ms Hitchcock. ‘You may find them through a placement, when you’re working with someone who is particularly inspirational. People want to help – don’t be afraid to ask.’

Develop your political leadership capabilities. ‘If we have the power of 685,000 nurses in the UK, and we all do a little bit of community advocacy, that is a tour de force,’ says Ms Bosanquet. ‘We have to be able to put our heads above the parapet, knowing we’re supported.’

Leadership skills for the future workforce

Launched in 2017, the Student Leadership Programme is a partnership between the Council of Deans of Health – the representative body for university faculties engaged in education and research for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals – and the charity Burdett Trust for Nursing.

Codesigned with students, its aim is to develop leadership skills in the future workforce by working with selected first- and second-year preregistration nursing students, midwives and allied healthcare professionals, who aspire to lead and make a difference. There are also opportunities for leaders to share their knowledge and experience with students through one-to-one coaching.

With cohorts of just 50 each time, the programme includes conferences and events, a coaching scheme which pairs students with front runners in their respective disciplines, and an online community of practice, encouraging students to interact, debate, share and learn from each other.

Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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