Moran M, Banks D. An exploration of the value of the role of the mentor and mentoring in Midwifery. Nurse Educ Today. 2016; 40:52-6

Oates J, Topping A, Arias T, Charles P, Hunter C, Watts K. The mental health and wellbeing of Midwifery students: an integrative review. Midwifery. 2019; 72:80-89

Olander E, Rayment J, Bryar R, Brook J. Midwifery students in health visitor placements: the importance of student-mentor relationships. Midwifery. 2018; 62:49-51

The student–mentor relationship

02 June 2019
Volume 27 · Issue 6


The student–mentor partnership is essential for future midwives. But, as Karen Barker explores, it is a bilateral relationship that offers as much to the mentor as it does to the student

Recently, I have been reflecting on the role of the mentor in supporting midwifery students. This relationship is at times challenging and often underestimated, but it is also crucial to student progression.

As a lecturer, I offer both pastoral and academic support for students. We have timetabled sessions for study, reflections and discussions in a safe environment without interruptions. This is often not the case in practice, where time can be limited and student–mentor feedback sometimes relies clinicians doing so after working hours. So my starting point is not to criticise mentors, but to reinforce the effects that poor mentorship can have on student wellbeing.

The initial prompt for my reflection on this matter was via social media. One student, in support of University Mental Health Day (7 March), tweeted:

‘Probably the hardest three years of my life, my marriage ended, I lost my home, my brother and a close friend ended their lives and I'm working full time … never underestimate what your student is going through.’

Life will certainly change for students over their training and we try to ensure that networks are in place for support. This is not always possible; however: healthcare students invariably work long placement hours, travel at antisocial times and share accommodation with undergraduates from other courses who are able to enjoy the full student experience, which is not always conducive to sleep. Students may run out of money, or can find themselves isolated due to accommodation difficulties. There is little flexibility in midwifery programmes, and students may have to choose between attendance, absence or a formal period of interruption. Adjusting working hours without affecting the integrity of mentorship might give students some breathing space when they need it most.

Reflecting on their midwifery training during a feedback session, students often saw mentors as barriers to learning, putting obstacles in their way and shattering their confidence. The dramatic terms and the emotional narrative were disquieting. Of course, mentors have to highlight where students need to improve (and, where necessary, recommend a fail grade) to protect women and families and to maintain standards of practice. However, the same levels of communication, respect and dignity that are provided to service users apply to students. The aim of mentorship is to educate, support and provide an engaging learning environment—not to undermine students' confidence.

These feelings are not limited to students: a study by Moran and Banks (2016) found that mentors appreciated their role, but did not always feel valued. A mentor is entrusted to advise and train a less experienced person, but although the role is essential, not all midwives want to be mentors. In my experience, mentors who consistently fail to demonstrate the appropriate levels of skill, decision-making and tact are not identified and challenged. If poor performance cannot be corrected, midwives need to be identified as unsuitable to be mentors.

Olander et al (2018) explored the experiences of student midwives on midwifery and health visiting placements. They suggested that during the health visiting placements, students felt welcomed, mentors took time to get to know them and the learning environment was stimulating. As an educationalist, I feel responsible for ensuring that placements are fit-for-purpose and that mentors are provided with the support they need. Although students are prepared for placements and trained in restorative practices, more could be done to increase resilience and ensure that students feel able to speak up when they are struggling.

It is important to appreciate students' needs and offer appropriate interventions. Many midwives have trained as professional midwifery advocates and have used restorative circles and one-to-one meetings to explore their feelings. This should be encouraged, so that support can be given.

Oates et al (2019: 87) have suggested that in the clinical environment, ‘interpersonal conflict, bullying and intimidation may take place, leading to symptoms of stress and anxiety’. This should not be the experience of our future workforce—or indeed that of any midwife. Midwives, mentors and students should all be viewed as valuable members of the team to whom the same level of respect and dignity as is accorded to women is extended.

Students are eager to learn, and they see mentors as role models. Be the mentor that students remember for the right reasons.