Mentors tell of students using tears – or cake – to manipulate them

Students' challenging behaviour towards mentors discussed during lively debate at RCN congress.
Tracey Risebrow

Nurses described students' challenging behaviour towards mentors in a lively debate at RCN congress in Liverpool.

Tracey Risebrow of RCN Suffolk says more research is needed   Photo: John Houlihan

The discussion was sparked by a recent study that found some students who receive negative feedback try to manipulate their mentors to avoid failing a placement.

Tracey Risebrow of RCN Suffolk branch, which submitted the matter for discussion, acknowledged the study was small, and said there was a question about whether further research was needed.

The study by Louise Hunt, senior lecturer in adult nursing at Birmingham City University, revealed some students had used questionable behaviour to influence decisions, including:

  • Bringing in cakes, hugging or crying.
  • Talking about personal circumstances or illness.
  • Questioning the mentor's competence or accusing them of bullying.
  • Being openly hostile by making verbal or physical threats or even resorting to violence.

Falsely accused

London nursing student mentor Nicky Williams recalled how she had challenged a student who was concentrating on 'inappropriate' practice areas. Ms Williams said the student replied that she had wanted to take on 'something easy'.

She added: 'I was then removed as her mentor because she accused me of bullying her.'

Norfolk nurse Helen Oatham said universities and workplaces needed to be aware of these issues. Ms Oatham said she had recently witnessed an experienced nurse with a clean record in tears because a student had submitted a grievance against her merely for asking questions.

'The grievance was not upheld,' Ms Oatham added. 'But the impact on this mentor is going to take a long time to heal.'

Support for mentors

Ms Risebrow told congress: ‘We should be thinking about how we can support our mentors.’

RCN forensic nursing forum chair Zeba Arif said one student she had mentored – who did not like the standards and goals she set – had made a complaint that she could not speak English properly – a claim dismissed by Ms Arif's manager.

Ms Arif said it was not acceptable for some students to blame mentors for their own shortcomings.

Understanding needed

RCN north west board member Mark Anthony warned nurses against judging people's behaviour without understanding their motivations.

‘We mustn’t pre-judge people,' he said. 'This is part of our role in the NHS.'

Advanced nurse practitioner Wendy Fairhurst said the research had come from a 'very small’ study and it was important to look at the reasons for people's behaviour.

She said she was the mother of a nursing student and could see the pressures and stress of juggling clinical placements and academic work.

'Students are under stress – balancing clinical and academic work is what is important.'

'Mentors have issues too'

Anglia Ruskin University second-year nursing student Amelia Offord said the role mentors played was vital.

But she warned: 'It’s not always students – sometimes it’s mentors that have issues with students.'

Second-year nursing student Grant Byrne said: 'Anyone can be a bully or be bullied. Instead we should be asking why in 2017 there are any bullies in our health service?’

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