Comment

Mentors need help to tackle bullying students

A recent study revealed the coercive tactics some students use against mentors. Its author, Louise Hunt, says unrealistic expectations are fuelling bad behaviour.
bullying

A recent study revealed the coercive tactics some students use against mentors. Its author, Louise Hunt, says unrealistic expectations are fuelling bad behaviour

It is well recognised that mentors sometimes behave badly towards students. However, my recent study shows that some students can behave in similar ways towards their mentors, particularly when they are told they are not performing to the required standard. It is concerning for the profession that some of these students are using manipulative behaviours to coerce mentors into passing them.

In the study, mentors reported that students used coercive tactics, ranging from ingratiating and diversionary activities to disparaging and aggressive acts. Responses to the study suggest practice educators and link tutors often witness students behaving in such ways, and

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A recent study revealed the coercive tactics some students use against mentors. Its author, Louise Hunt, says unrealistic expectations are fuelling bad behaviour 


A study has found that some underperforming students use bullying or
manipulative behaviour to try and influence grades. Picture: Paul Stuart

It is well recognised that mentors sometimes behave badly towards students. However, my recent study shows that some students can behave in similar ways towards their mentors, particularly when they are told they are not performing to the required standard. It is concerning for the profession that some of these students are using manipulative behaviours to coerce mentors into passing them.

In the study, mentors reported that students used coercive tactics, ranging from ingratiating and diversionary activities to disparaging and aggressive acts. Responses to the study suggest practice educators and link tutors often witness students behaving in such ways, and some students said they recognised these behaviours in their peers.

As such, more work needs to be done to reduce the occurrence of such behaviours and develop productive learning relationships with candid feedback.

False expectations 

Problems arise because of a shared expectation that a ‘good’ mentor can get any student through a practical assessment. Dispelling this false expectation is an important step in managing the issue, as then neither party would feel that a mentor had broken faith if they raised concerns about a student’s poor performance.

Mentors feel students can be unaware of the change in their status when they move from an academic to a healthcare environment: they are no longer the primary customer, since patients’ needs take precedence over theirs. Alongside this, mentors are not accorded the same kudos as academic lecturers and students often expect them to be their friend.

These erroneous beliefs can lead to frustration when a student is underperforming. This could be offset if students were better prepared by nurse educators to expect robust feedback from mentors about their performance, and if mentors were empowered by universities to provide this.

The named mentor system also compounds the problem and should be reviewed. Mentors report becoming isolated because colleagues assume they are solely responsible for managing their students’ performance. This is particularly stressful for junior mentors; there is no other scenario in which a staff nurse would be expected to take lone responsibility for the performance management of an individual.

Invest in resources 

In these circumstances, it is probably unsurprising that some situations might be handled clumsily by junior staff, and that students consequently respond badly. Further training in nurse-to-nurse communication could help students and mentors.

Mentors generally feel they are expected to cope alone when a failing student makes vexatious accusations of bullying and harassment or resorts to aggressive behaviour. Support is provided mainly by the mentor’s partner, particularly where the nurse is a lone worker. Practice educators and link lecturers can help in large NHS trusts but they often have no further support structures themselves. The system often functions on informal networks and good will.

Healthcare organisations, universities, professional bodies and trade unions all claim to provide support resources to mentors. They must invest more in these resources and encourage mentors to access support, particularly when they are under duress.   

Reference

  • Hunt L A, McGee P, Gutteridge R, Hughes M (2016) Manipulating mentors’ assessment decisions: do underperforming student nurses use coercive strategies to influence mentors’ practical assessment decisions? Nurse Education in Practice 20, 154-156.

Louise Hunt is the lead nurse for practice at Birmingham City University

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