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The role of the Midwife Mentor

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The word ‘midwife’ means ‘with woman’. Midwives are specialists in normal pregnancy and birth, and the midwife’s role is to look after a pregnant woman and her baby throughout the antenatal period, during labour and birth, and for up to 28 days after the baby has been born.

A midwife must be able to care for women throughout pregnancy, birth, and during the postnatal period, as well as care for newborn babies. She must be able to detect problems, summon medical help if needed, and be trained in emergency procedures. She also has a role in health education, antenatal classes and preparation for parenthood, a midwife also provides teaching and assessments of student midwives. “Mentors play a critical role in preparing the next generation of midwives for safe and competent practice” (Lawson L, Bunyan C, 2013). The Oxford English dictionary definition of a mentor is ‘an experienced and trusted adviser’.

For student midwives, being mentored is an important element of preparing for life as a qualified professional. Mentoring students within a healthcare setting is considered to be fundamental in their development and education. The purpose is to achieve a fit-for-practice and fit-for-purpose workforce with practice experience comprising one of the most important aspects in preparing students for registered status with a professional body, such as the NMC.

Mentors play a crucial part in facilitating teaching, learning and assessment in practice placements. In addition, the mentoring role includes other important functions, such as being a role model and giving constructive and developmental feedback to prepare the student for future placements. A stage one mentor is an NMC-registered midwife or nurse, who is being introduced to the responsibilities of being a mentor (Kinnell and Hughes, 2010). All stage one mentors must meet the requirement of The Code: standards of conduct, performance and ethics for nurses and midwives which states that nurses and midwives on the NMC professional register: “…have a duty to facilitate students of nursing and midwifery and others to develop their competence.”

Mentoring is enshrined in the NMC Code (2008a), which emphasises that it is a serious responsibility and that mentors are accountable for every decision and action, as made clear in the NMC standards (NMC, 2010). It is expected that a qualified mentor will be equipped to develop and train students, given that the practice placement is the best arena to increase knowledge, skills and professional attitudes (Levett-Jones and Lathlean, 2008) Mentors should be formally prepared for their roles and must meet the minimum requirements set by the NMC. The NMC standard for supporting learning and assessment in practice (NMC, 2006a) Sign-off mentors have responsibility for confirming that the required proficiencies for entry to the register have been achieved. To do this, the mentor supervises clinical practice to ensure that the student is safe and that the women receive appropriate care.

Students must work with a mentor for 40% of their time (NMC, 2008b) prior to the date of their personal based assessment, and, in addition, are entitled to have one hour per week protected time. Good mentoring depends on well-planned learning opportunities and the provision of support and coaching for students, which should also incorporate an appropriate level of supervision (RCN, 2007a). This will be dependent upon a student’s experience and what is required of them during their placement in order to meet their learning outcomes and achieve set competencies. If A Mentor delegates work to someone who is not registered with the NMC, the accountability is to ensure that the individual who undertakes the work is able to do so and that they are given appropriate support and supervision.

As well as reviewing both knowledge and understanding, and the ability to apply theory to practice and skills, professional behaviour should also be assessed – including attitude, team work, caring skills, appearance and motivation. Evidence that learning has taken place should match the student’s learning objectives, as well as any action plan. All assessments must be recorded appropriately in the student’s practice documentation. Any student that is either not progressing, or failing to meet the required standard, needs early identification so that opportunities can be provided for the student to improve. It is also the Mentors role to recognise when a student is not meeting the required standards and act upon this to gain support from the practice placement team and The University.

Duffy (2004) outlines why good assessment is an essential part of a mentor’s role: “Potentially clinical assessment of student nurses can safeguard professional standards, patients and the general public. It is inevitable that some students will not be able to meet the required level of practice and it is essential that mentors do not avoid the difficult issue of having to fail these students.” Continuous assessment of the student throughout the placement period is important, providing a measure of how the student is progressing according to the level and knowledge expected at each stage of their training. The student’s performance is monitored continuously when carrying out ‘day-to-day’ activities and there should be periodic discussions of care given, feedback and documentation throughout the placement. Assessments can be formal or informal.

Mentors should be aware of the moral obligation to support learning for disabled students and for those with health problems and impairments. Becoming a mentor teaches midwives to support and facilitate learning in practice settings. This means they can harness the potential of various approaches to learning, such as inter-professional, work-placed and virtual, with the aim of rigorously assessing students in the context of practice experiences. Ultimately, mentors are setting students on the road for a lifetime of competent practice. Just as midwives bring a new generation of babies into the world, mentors are delivering the next generation of midwives by passing on their knowledge, skills and professionalism.

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