One of my mentors told me that sign-off mentors are the gatekeepers to the midwifery register. From starting off as a first year to qualifying as a midwife, mentors play a crucial and empowering role in shaping future midwives. I think that a lot of mentors don’t get the recognition they deserve for the positive impact that they have on us. After speaking to a few fellow students, a pattern seems to form around the characteristics shared by what could be considered a ‘good mentor’.
The relationship between a student and their mentor acts as a grounding foundation for building up their confidence, making a student feel listened to and valued, which contributes to their clinical experience as a whole. It is a huge responsibility for a mentor to facilitate learning, as well as maintain the safety of themselves, their students and the general public.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few really great mentors on my placements, and it’s because of their faith in me that I feel competent and like I have progressed in terms of clinical standards. One mentor in particular, I have a really good rapport with. I have such high respect for her as a midwife, and her ongoing passion for midwifery and the care that she delivers is inspiring. I think it’s admirable to be at a stage in your career where you’ve been working for years and progressing, and still come in everyday knowing that you love what you do. That’s the feeling that I get when I start my shift with her, and I hope to still feel the same in many years to come. She is so organised and approachable so I always know where I stand, and she’s a fantastic teacher. After each shift she’d debrief me and help me reflect on our care experiences, then send me home thanking me for the work I’d done with her.
She adapts her style of teaching to suit my needs and one of the main things I love about her is that she treats me like an equal. A student wears grey uniform and is supernumerary to the staff midwives in blue uniform, but she doesn’t make me feel inferior. Instead she acts as my advocate and my guide, truly believing in my future as a midwife. She helps me to appreciate just how rewarding this job really is. On that particular placement I was doing 12 hour shifts which are pretty heavy going, there’s no doubt about that, but I still think when it comes round to 4pm and I have 4 hours to go, that there is nowhere else I’d rather be.
Now unfortunately, not all mentor experiences are positive, but I believe even a negative experience can be a valuable learning opportunity. If a student and mentor do not have a good relationship, it can have massive effects on the student’s learning and damage the important trust and mutual respect that should be in place from an early stage in the placement. A student who is not comfortable around their mentor could rapidly lose their confidence in their own abilities, and will eventually become too afraid to speak up and do something about it. This is worse case scenario, and it’s a shame that it’s likely to happen to a student at least once in their educational career. In those situations all you can really do is make the best of your time on placement, putting yourself forward for tasks, staying positive and open-minded, and seeking support and advice from friends, family and university.
From every mentor I’ve had so far, I have learned something from them about the kind of midwife I want to be, and eventually, the kind of mentor I want to be. A mentor will raise you from first year; a growing embryo with so much potential, to second year; a fully grown baby solely relying on a placenta but able to kick and make itself known, to third year; a beautiful baby detached from it’s cord ready to experience whatever this world has to offer it.
To the midwives and mentors of the NHS going above and beyond to provide the best learning experience for students like us, thank you.