News

Mentors ‘manipulated, sometimes threatened’ by failing students

Study reveals alarming patterns of behaviour some students use to influence mentors who assess their placement performance
Placement threats

Placement mentors are being manipulated and some even subjected to violent threats by nursing students, new research reveals.

A study at Birmingham City University has uncovered alarming examples of students reactions to negative feedback from their mentor about their performance on placement, including making threats and allegations of bullying.

Half of a nursing students pre-registration degree is assessed through placements in healthcare settings, where they are assigned a nurse as their mentor.

The mentor supports the student, but also assesses whether they have achieved the required level of skills and competencies.

Manipulative response

Researchers found that, after receiving negative feedback from their mentor, some students use manipulative behaviour in an attempt not to fail.

The study, lead by senior lecturer in adult nursing Louise Hunt, interviewed

Placement mentors are being ‘manipulated’ and some even subjected to violent threats by nursing students, new research reveals.


Some students use manipulative or threatening behaviour in an attempt not to fail. Photo: John Behets

A study at Birmingham City University has uncovered alarming examples of students’ reactions to negative feedback from their mentor about their performance on placement, including making threats and allegations of bullying.

Half of a nursing student’s pre-registration degree is assessed through placements in healthcare settings, where they are assigned a nurse as their mentor.

The mentor supports the student, but also assesses whether they have achieved the required level of skills and competencies.

Manipulative response

Researchers found that, after receiving negative feedback from their mentor, some students use manipulative behaviour in an attempt not to fail.

The study, lead by senior lecturer in adult nursing Louise Hunt, interviewed 31 participants who were either mentors, practice education facilitators or link lecturers.

All worked in the NHS or the private sector and had failed at least one student in a practical assessment.

‘Ingratiators’ and ‘aggressors’

The study identified four patterns of behaviour used to influence the mentor:

  • Ingratiator – attempts to curry favour by being charming, obliging or emotionally exploitative. Methods used to sway mentors range from bringing in cakes and making cups of tea to hugging or crying.
  • Diverter – plays on factors unrelated to their underperformance, including illness, personal circumstances or disability. One mentor said a student noted his washing machine flooding and his car breaking down as reasons for poor performance.
  • Disparager – challenges their mentor in belittling or professionally harmful ways. One method is to question the mentor’s competence, another is to accuse the mentor of harassment or bullying.
  • Aggressor – engages in open hostility towards their mentor, including verbal or physical threats. One mentor who did not live locally but found a handwritten note from their student on their doorstep while another was threatened in a car park by a student’s boyfriend. A student also threw a wastepaper basket at their mentor.
Not acknowledged

Dr Hunt said every mentor she spoke to provided information about at least one of these types of behaviour.

‘The profession is reluctant to talk about it, but unless we acknowledge that some students are behaving like this towards their mentors, we are not going to start looking at solutions,’ she said.

The study, published in Nurse Education in Practice, identified that students who did not use coercive tactics, but instead wanted frank feedback, tried to improve their performance.

Reluctant to fail

Previous studies from Glasgow Caledonian University and London South Bank University identified that mentors can be reluctant to fail underperforming students.

The Birmingham City University study recommended helping mentors to understand when it is not their own performance but the student’s that is below standard, as well as making mentors aware of the coercive strategies used so they are less likely to work.

 

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