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Clinical placement mentor: Julie Harben-Obasuyi

Clinical placement mentor Julie Harben-Obasuyi explains her role as a student mentor.

Student mentor
What makes a good mentor?
Mentors need to be experienced, enthusiastic, committed professionals with sound clinical knowledge. We have all sorts of students and need to have all sorts of mentors to accommodate these students.

What's the most challenging aspect of being a mentor?
There are so many challenges! Students sometimes come into the profession with unrealistic expectations of the role and what it entails; the mentor has to be able to determine whether or not these issues are surmountable; they need to be able to assess whether or not the student has chosen the right career, and they need to be confident in assessing whether or not the student has the ability to become a competent, confident practitioner.

What difficulties/issues have you had/things would you change as a mentor?

Time to do the job has to be the biggest issue – there is never enough of it. Mentoring is a full-time job!

What attributes in a student make them more or less likely to succeed while on clinical placement?
The student needs ‘heart’. If they have midwifery in their heart and are willing to put in the work both clinically and academically, then they will succeed.

What would your advice be to students who are on or facing their clinical placement? What issues might they come up against?
I think they need to be realistic. Midwifery is not always happy, it’s not always interesting, and it’s sometimes very stressful and repetitive. You need to make sure you have good support mechanisms to help you through the not-so-good times.

A midwife sometimes needs to remind herself (himself) that this is a life-changing experience for the women and families in their care even though it might seem like an everyday event to the professional. Sometimes you might not feel very happy or very enthusiastic, but you have to portray these for the benefit of your clients.
How effective are the simulation rooms in preparing student midwives for practice?

Simulation is great and definitely the way forward for education in the health professions. It is particularly useful if it is multi-professional as in full immersion simulation scenarios. Students can experiment with confidence in the knowledge that no one can be hurt while they practise on a simulator!

If you were honest, do you think that some students swap shifts and hence potentially mentor because of personal issues and therefore aren't helping themselves in their training?

Definitely! This is one of the challenges of a clinical placement facilitator (CPF). Students and mentors may not get on and this can go both ways. The student should always discuss this with the person responsible for arranging the placement, for example the CPF. There has to be a certain amount of flexibility built into the system to allow for this. However, sometimes students defer from their allocated mentor because they want to change their days off or because they think another mentor will help give them a different experience, for example waterbirths; this will inevitably lead to difficulty in ensuring they work 40% of the time with their mentor. It may also jeopardise mentorship for other students who were already booked to work that shift and subsequently have to change mentors or have less opportunity to care for labouring women because there are too many students on that shift.

Do you think there is a big gap between theory and practice?
Sometimes, yes. It is the responsibility of the profession to ensure this is kept to a minimum by using evidence-based guidelines. We try to encourage students to develop the ability to critique the evidence and to reflect on their practice to facilitate the growth of midwifery and to help keep the gap to a minimum. I am not sure if it is a realistic aspiration for the gap to disappear altogether because we are autonomous practitioners and we all have our own way of working, this is one of the interesting facets of the role.

What aspects of training best prepare students for becoming a newly qualified midwife?
Their clinical experience is invaluable and they could not be a midwife if their education was totally academic. Universities do find this a challenge I think. Clinical work is difficult to assess and to a certain extent to prepare for too. It would be unrealistic to expect to be able to prepare students for every eventuality. The ability to reflect with peers on a regular basis is essential, as is the use of a reflective diary.

As I have already said, simulation is an excellent method developing clinical skills in a less threatening environment. It is especially useful in helping the student practise obstetric emergencies, which they otherwise might only be permitted to watch.