Jane Bates: mentors can’t wrap students up in cotton wool

But it is our duty to help them build resilience against nursing’s hard knocks

But it is our duty to help them build resilience against nursing’s hard knocks

Picture: Barney Newman

Having small children to visit, as I often do these days, means normal items of furniture become hazards.

It’s all those sharp corners and hard edges. I want to cushion everything with pillows and buffer those tiny foreheads with bubble wrap so they won’t get hurt. My living room is turning into a padded cell.  

The protective urge

At times, when mentoring students, we feel a similar need to protect. There are many sharp corners and hard edges in nursing, and sooner or later our protégées will bump into them and get bruised. They will discover the sharp corner of unfairness, and the hard edge of disparagement, and their emotional endurance will be stretched to the extreme.

Is it our duty, as mentors, to prepare them for this? I rather think it is. When I was a beginner it was the more experienced students who provided this kind of nurturing, informing us which senior colleagues were ‘sweeties’ and which were hatchet-wielding harridans. It was important – these figures of authority could make or break you.

The older students listened to us and empathised when we were distressed about our patients. They acted as mentors, when the attitude of the nursing hierarchy was ‘keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it’.

Building resilience

Students can’t be wrapped in cotton wool; they have to face the reality of working in the NHS, just as we had to develop our own coping strategies and build up our resilience.

But forewarned is forearmed. Not only is it a kindness to the student concerned to provide this support, it is imperative if we wish to retain nurses for the future.

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire

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