From simulation to mentorship: Tips on how to manage students and graduates

John Smithson says that the workplace behaviour of clinicians is closely observed by students and graduates. Image source: Getty

James Cook University lecturer, Associate Professor John Smithson, who has delivered several research projects on simulation within nursing and pharmaceutical education, says that modelling good habits is crucial to helping practical students and new graduates succeed in the workplace.

Acknowledging simulation as an important transition layer in a nursing student’s learning process, he notes that the next stage  — the participation of a graduate or student in a practical environment, with observation and feedback from a mentor — puts a mutual onus on both student and mentor that goes beyond simulated learning.

“While students are closely observed in the simulation environment, clinicians are also closely observed by students and junior clinicians [in the workplace],” the registered nurse and pharmacist explains.

“Senior clinicians and mentors set the tone in that clinical environment. If people cut corners, or they don’t care, then that’s what less experienced clinicians may interpret as the standard.”

Drawing on the Associate Professor’s experience in nurse education, here are some key recommendations he has for mentors helping to shepherd students and early career graduates into their workplace:

  • Be humble and kind: Associate Professor Smithson notes, such traits can reassure the student that “we’re in that environment to fine-tune the skills, knowledge and attitudes so they are better clinicians tomorrow.”
  • Unpack learning at the bedside with the student: Sometimes, these opportunities can be overlooked, but the bedside offers “powerful teaching moments” for the student or mentee to “assess what they’re doing moment to moment and apply that to the broader learning within their course and practice,” he says.
  • Be positive about mentoring students: “Students shouldn’t be a burden; they’re an opportunity for you to be reflective of your own practice, learn something new… and it’s an opportunity for those mentors to improve the care of the patients that they’re responsible for.”
  • “You get from students what you expect from students”: The Associate Professor notes that mentors sometimes make the mistake of underestimating their students. If mentors set reasonable expectations, “students will rise to the occasion” to meet the challenge.
  • Offer feedback that is thoughtful and honest: “You do nobody any favours by not giving carefully considered and truthful feedback in a mentor-mentee relationship. When providing feedback, tell them what they did, what you thought of ‘what they did’, and how they can improve. That’s how we all grow. Mentors should provide feedback on the areas in which students are performing well and the areas in need of improvement.”

More generally, Associate Professor Smithson says there is also plenty that mentors can gain from using simulation as a mechanism for their own learning, especially in a hospital setting where high-stakes interventions are practised, like a response to a cardiac arrest. The same physical resources have the potential to be applied to other less time-critical and intensive skills and contexts.

“I’d encourage people to think about the resources that already exist in health services,” he says.

“Use them [to] their full potential, outside of what they might traditionally be used for, in order to improve the care of your patient.”

More information on Associate Professor Smithson’s work can be found at the James Cook University Website.

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