Advice and development

Is failure the fairest option?

A concerned mentor turns to Zeba Arif for advice and support.

A concerned mentor turns to Zeba Arif for advice and support.

A staff nurse says she has failed a nursing student she was mentoring because his performance was below standard. Her line manager and the link tutor from the university feel she is being overly harsh. I have agreed to meet with her, and would appreciate some guidance on how I can support her.

The first thing you must do is ascertain the strength of the mentoring relationship. Questions you need to ask include:

  • Was the nursing student aware of the objectives he was expected to achieve during the placement?
  • Did the staff nurse mentoring the student work with him on most of his shifts?
  • How often did they meet for one-to-one sessions?

You also need to understand what aspect of his work is under scrutiny. Is it lack of punctuality? Was he unreliable or not listening to instructions? Or is it his relationship with patients?

Whether or not the nurse made her concerns known to the student, as well as her line manager, is also important. Did she document these concerns? The nurse’s concerns about the student must be taken on board, and you must tell her that you realise the process of reaching this decision was a difficult one.

However, while the nurse may be able to rationalise why she failed the student, she must also be open to the opinions of the link tutor and her line manager. How has the student performed on his previous placements? Are circumstances in his personal life affecting his work?

Making a judgement call like this is not easy, and it is critical that the staff nurse feels supported during this process. It is courageous to make an unpopular decision to ultimately safeguard patients, and I hope her line manager realises her integrity and values her for this.

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