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Student placements: we need to ‘feed’ our future nurses to build them up

Why does nurses’ famed kindness not always extend to each other, or those in training?

Why does nurses famed kindness not always extend to each other, or those in training?

Experienced nurses have a lot to share with students in training Picture: Tim George

What would you like with your student, madam? Skinny fries or a green salad?

I only recently came across the expression nurses eat their young, which was coined more than 30 years ago by Judith Meissner, herself a nurse.

Nursing student attrition rate is worryingly high

I loved that one of the academic articles pointed out that this was not literal. Phew what a relief.

Nurses, whose profession is kindness, whose lifeblood is compassion, are sometimes spiteful to each other.

There has been an

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Why does nurses’ famed kindness not always extend to each other, or those in training?

Experienced nurses have a lot to share with students in training Picture: Tim George

‘What would you like with your student, madam? Skinny fries or a green salad?’

I only recently came across the expression ‘nurses eat their young’, which was coined more than 30 years ago by Judith Meissner, herself a nurse.

Nursing student attrition rate is worryingly high

I loved that one of the academic articles pointed out that this was not literal. Phew – what a relief.

Nurses, whose profession is kindness, whose lifeblood is compassion, are sometimes spiteful to each other.

There has been an abundance of research on this subject, which is a terrible indictment of our profession.

Whether as health professionals or patients, we all bear the consequences of the global shortage of nurses, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating an already critical situation.

People apply to study nursing, but the student attrition rate is high – it has run at about one in four for many years now. One of the reasons students quit is their placement experiences, which are at the very heart of their training.

It’s a vicious circle – trained nurses are often at the end of their tether, so have little patience or opportunity to support students.

Supernumerary teachers would ensure that mentors are not overloaded

In my training, we had all of that, but me and my fellow students had a sense of belonging, to our cohort and to our hospital. Our support came not necessarily from trained staff but from our peers as we worked alongside each other.

‘We’ll never get on top of the problem of nurse shortages if we lose 25% of every student intake’

We were coached on the wards by clinical tutors, who encouraged and nurtured us. Piling the responsibility of student education onto mentors, who are already weary with their heavy workloads, is a false economy – they simply do not have the time, however enthusiastic they are, to carry out the job properly.

I loved being a mentor, but I often felt under double pressure, trying to give students my full support. To remedy this, we need to return to the days of supernumerary teachers. We’ll never get on top of the problem of nurse shortages if we lose 25% of every student intake.

‘Feed’ the next generation of nurses by sharing knowledge

With more people accepted onto undergraduate nursing courses in England this year than last, it’s the perfect opportunity to boost our numbers. But with even more nurses burnt out due to their recent experiences, will placements still be able to support the fledglings?

Some are already disadvantaged socially through having to start their studies remotely because of COVID-19.

It’s easy when we are under pressure to take our negativity out on others, but we all know it is wrong and not what we went into nursing to do. It’s also enshrined in the Nursing and Midwifery Council code that this is unacceptable behaviour.

Instead of ‘eating’ our young, let’s feed them. We all have a deep well of knowledge and experience to pass on to the next generation, so let’s turn this around and be positive and compassionate as we help shape the nurses of the future.


Jane Bates is a retired nurse


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