Midwives: the next generation

By Louise Lawson and Claire Bunyan on 05 July 2013 Midwives Magazine Midwife Training

Mentors play a critical role in preparing the next generation of midwives for safe and competent practice. Louise Lawson and Claire Bunyan explain what is involved in becoming a midwifery mentor.

Midwives magazine: Issue 4: 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-practise 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.

Contrary to popular belief, a mentor need not be a midwife with decades of experience. But, given the breadth and depth of the remit, it stands to reason that mentors need to be trained in order to take on such an important role.

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).

Of course, all midwives have a role in facilitating students’ learning in such a way that enables them to become competent practitioners in their own right and, in time, future colleagues. But, to become a mentor, a midwife must be qualified. According to the NMC ‘students on NMC-approved pre-registration midwifery education programmes, leading to registration on the midwives’ part of the register, can only be supported and assessed by mentors who have met the additional sign-off criteria’ (NMC, 2008b).

How to become a mentor

There are two levels of qualification in mentorship: stage one and stage two. Only stage two mentors can become sign-off mentors, which means that they make the final assessment of students’ practice.

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.

However, it is recognised that many units do not have enough sign-off mentors and, in this scenario, the student will work with a stage one mentor who has not yet completed an NMC-approved preparation for mentorship course.

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 in that each registrant is required to ‘facilitate students and others to develop their competence’ (NMC, 2008a).

A stage one mentor is able to support, supervise and teach students. They can also contribute towards the assessment process. But all of this must be under the supervision of a sign-off mentor who is accountable for that student’s assessment and, as the title suggests, sign off the assessment documents.

This system ensures that qualified practitioners, who support students, meet the requirements of the NMC’s Standards to support learning and assessment in practice (NMC, 2008b).

Midwives can become a stage two mentor when they have been registered for a minimum of one year and have successfully completed a mentorship module or course in an approved higher education institution, thus meeting all the outcomes of stage two (NMC, 2008b).

This qualification is then recorded on the local register of mentors within the trusts. Stage two mentors must demonstrate their knowledge, skills and competence on an ongoing basis and this must be reviewed and verified every three years to ensure that only those who continue to meet these requirements remain on the local register (NMC, 2008b). All stage two mentors must facilitate teaching, learning and assessment in practice. Therefore, they have a duty to provide the student with a variety of learning opportunities to enable them to achieve their learning outcomes.

When working towards becoming a stage two mentor, midwives will attend the ‘preparation for mentorship’ course. They may find themselves studying with nurses, operating department practitioners and other healthcare professionals. But, for midwives to qualify as a sign-off mentor, there is an additional element, which is normally completed at a later date. The NMC has stated that all midwifery mentors must meet these additional criteria, which involves being supervised on three occasions when signing off proficiency for a student (NMC, 2008b).

The module takes into account the professional body’s responsibility to protect the public through rigorous assessment of learners’ competence (NMC, 2012). It also covers the changing needs of healthcare organisations as they adapt to policy priorities, which means increased inter-professional working and service reconfiguration (DH, 2005). And, of course, the module needs to ensure that mentors are able to meet the needs of students at the various stages of their personal and professional development.

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.

Louise Lawson
Senior lecturer in adult nursing, University of Hertfordshire

Claire Bunyan
Midwife, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust


DH. (2005) Creating a patient-led NHS: delivering the NHS improvement plan. See: webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_4106507.pdf (accessed 5 July 2013).

Kinnell D, Hughes P. (2010) Mentoring nursing and healthcare students. Sage: London.

Levett-Jones T, Lathlean J. (2008) Belongingness: a prerequisite for nursing students’ clinical learning. Nurse Education in Practice 8(2): 103-11.

NMC. (2010) Standards for pre-registration nursing education. NMC: London. See: standards.nmc-uk.org/PublishedDocuments/Standards%20for%20pre-registration%20nursing%20education%2016082010.pdf (accessed 5 July 2013).

NMC. (2008a) The code: standards of conduct, performance and ethics for nurses and midwives. NMC: London. See: www.nmc-uk.org/Documents/Standards/The-code-A4-20100406.pdf (accessed 5 July 2013).

NMC. (2008b) Standards to support learning and assessment in practice. NMC: London. See: www.nmc-uk.org/Educators/Standards-for-education/Standards-to-support-learning-and-assessment-in-practice/ (accessed 5 July 2013).

NMC. (2012) Guidance on professional conduct for nursing and midwifery students. NMC: London. See: www.nmc-uk.org/Documents/NMC-Publications/NMC-Guidance-on-professional-conduct.pdf (accessed 5 July 2013).