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My clinical placement: by newly qualified midwife Hollie Price

Newly qualified midwife Hollie Price tells Midwives about her clinical placement experiences.
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What/where were your clinical placements? Could you explain a bit about them and your experiences?

I did several community, two postnatal ward, one antenatal ward, two delivery suite, several birth suite, one NICU, one gynae (all areas). Each placement was, on the whole between three and seven weeks with an average of three to four days on placement and one to two days at university.

What were your key concerns about your clinical placements?

Getting a ‘nice’ mentor and getting the support and opportunities to get my competencies.

What difficulties/issues did you have? What would you have changed?

Always changing mentors – I would have really liked more continuity. While of course there’s a lot to be learnt from working with different midwives, valuable placement time can be lost trying to please for example. Having to work with midwives who clearly didn’t want a student or felt it a burden led to difficulties with confidence for example.

Do you think your expectations of clinical placement were realistic?

I didn’t really have any expectations.

Do you think they differed from your mentor or were they the same?

I always worried that mentors who didn’t know me would be disappointed in me – it only happened once – she didn’t even try to get to know me better – it was at the start of my second year and she stripped me of any confidence I may have had in one shift – I still don’t feel like I’m over it.

Do you think there is a big gap between theory and practice?
Big enough. There is too much emphasise on the academic side – it should be mostly clinical practice – backed up with some academia to show you are capable of evidence-based practice. You can be a brilliant midwife but not be academic and sadly I have seen many fall by the wayside because university put on a lot of pressure academically.

Were your clinical placements really learning environments or did you feel that you were simply just 'another pair of hands'?
Pretty much the latter. As a newly qualified, there are still so many things that I am having to do that I never got a chance to as a student. As I’m at a different trust to where I trained, this highlights my own feelings of incapability – though these are only my own feelings – on the whole, everyone has been/is being very supportive.

What tips do you have for improving the learning environment within a clinical placement?

Only use mentors who want to have students – it’s not fair on the student when they don’t. Continuity of mentors – I truly believe this is fundamental!  Placements not being during rotation – or if they must be, that the student rotates with their mentor so they are not having to start afresh half way through their placement. More opportunity for ongoing training for mentors – maybe with financial incentive to encourage numbers – this in itself could be graded – to encourage mentors to be good (kind, approachable, supportive, encouraging, knowledgeable, enabling) perhaps.

How effective are the simulation rooms in preparing student midwives for practice? Can you explain your experience of a simulation room?
Personally I don’t like them. I remember doing venepuncture – I came out of that session thinking that if I hadn’t already taken blood from a real arm and therefore knew it was nothing like that – I don’t think I would ever have wanted to do it for real after trying on the fake arm! Also, palpation simulation is pointless. None of these things are anything like the real thing. Emergency scenarios can be helpful but only really in the hospital environment – nothing feels ‘real’ in university.

What makes a good mentor?
See above!

Did you have any issues with your training and your mentorship? Perhaps your mentor only worked part time? Did you have an issue with your paperwork being completed if you had not been on all your shifts with her?
Yes, part-time mentors are tricky but also them swapping shifts and not telling you.
Getting to know new mentors because everyone works so differently and often folk seem to think their way of doing things is the only/right way. It seems to be a given for students to have to travel back into placement and maybe do extra shifts in their own time in order to get paperwork completed.

If you were honest, did some students swap shifts and hence potentially mentors because of personal issues and therefore weren't helping themselves in their training?
Absolutely! Although it’s not necessarily a bad thing for those lucky enough to have been able to swap to a mentor they got on better with – it’s a much more inviting learning environment. You need to feel like you can comfortably make mistakes – you can’t possibly feel that if you can’t get on with your mentor. I therefore personally feel there should be some facility for formalising this – if continuity of mentor happened, this would hopefully be less of an issue?

What would your advice be to students now who are on or facing their clinical placement? What issues did you come up against?
I always tell students now that if there is something they’re particularly worried about, to put themselves out there now while they have the support of a mentor – I regret not doing that more! I also tell them not to let the ‘funny’ mentors get to them – that they can learn just as much from the less fab experiences for example (though I don’t particularly mean that – I don’t think ‘mean’ mentors should be allowed to be mentors – it can be so, so damaging). Grab every experience you can.

What aspects of your training best prepared you for becoming a newly qualified midwife?
I had a mentor that I worked with at least one placement a year, who made me do pretty much everything. This tested me a lot but it showed me I could do it. She believed in me and it helped me believe in myself too. Also, once I started doing community clinics and visits by myself (so I had no mentor in the room to answer questions), made me realise how much I did know.

Is there anything you would have changed? Done more of/less of?

Done all the things I didn’t like doing/want to do!

Did you feel well supported by the midwives around you on clinical placement?

Only sometimes.