And why is it that you hear so many horror stories? This is something that is not unique to Midwifery but also occurs in Teaching, Nursing and no doubt many other careers.
Before beginning my training I had read on forums about students being bullied by mentors, being left to do things that they shouldn't be doing alone, not being allowed to do things, struggling to get things signed off in their books, and the list goes on. I had also read a lot about fantastic mentors and how supportive they could be. So going into placement I was apprehensive about who I would be working with and especially when I thought about Community as I would be with one Midwife all the time - can you imagine how hard that would be if you didn't get on? So now I am well into placement and really enjoying working with my Community Mentor, I have been thinking about what it is that makes a good mentor.
1. Consistency. Both in who you are working with and also in how they work. When you work with someone different each time, you soon discover that everyone has their own way of doing things. It can be really good experience of course to see the different methods but it certainly doesn't help when you try to do something, and the person you are working with says "oh no that's wrong, don't do it like that" or something similar. It is also nigh on impossible to learn, if the person you are working with does it differently each time with no apparent reason, and no explanation. Also if you consistently work with the same mentor, they can see how much you improve and learn along the way which just isn't possible when you only work one shift with each person.
2. Time. It is important as a student to have the opportunity to discuss things with your mentor. So you can understand why things happened the way they did, why certain decisions were made etc. Labour is generally quite a slow process, and the actual delivery of the baby can also be slow but once the baby is born, then things are generally a little busier - decisions can be made very quickly and there isn't always the opportunity to ask questions, and of course sometimes it isn't appropriate. So in an ideal world, there would be time later on to sit down and "debrief". For the student, it is also imperative to have a chance to look at the placement books and the essential learning outcomes that need to be signed off on. Left too late and this can be a real problem. I also believe it helps the mentors as well, as then they know where to focus the students learning.
3. Friendly, approachable and supportive. Yes I know this should go without saying, particularly in a caring profession such as Midwifery but unfortunately this isn't always the case. I mean to me it's common sense, if the mentor is approachable and friendly, then the student is far more willing to try, far more confident at having a go, knowing that the midwife is there to support as needed, and therefore much more likely to say when they don't know something. It's much easier as a student, to build confidence, with someone who is supporting you, letting you try, letting you make mistakes but at the same time ensuring you aren't putting anyone at risk. It's well proven that you learn better by doing something yourself than by simply watching.
4. Recognises the student as an adult learner. Again this seems obvious but I do think some people forget this. And I am not restricting this issue to the mentors, I believe that some students forget that they are responsible for their own learning too. The mentor should treat the student as an adult, not as a pupil. And the student should not act like a child but as an adult who wants to learn - I'd also like to see this in University but I'd take a guess that you'll always get those that thing it's funny to sit in lectures looking at magazines and laughing. A bit of mutual respect goes a long way I find. The student should speak up about the things that need doing - like the placement book. It's their responsibility to ensure it is done, not the mentors, and to not leave things till the last minute. On the other hand, it is the mentor's responsibility to give the student the time when reasonably able. (and yes I know this really belongs in my time section)
5. Showing an interest. Not all mentors choose to be mentors and in many ways I don't think it's fair on either the student or the mentor for this. But it most definitely helps if the mentor is interested in being a mentor as then they are far more likely to offer the time and support to the student. It also helps the mentor and the student if the mentor knows what kind of experience the student already has - can save on a lot of repetition.
All of this is what I believe makes a good mentor and at the moment I have a fantastic mentor. I hope I get to work with her again in the future but I am going to enjoy the coming weeks with her. On the flip side I'd like to think I am a good student and that I am fulfilling my side of the relationship by acting professionally, showing willingness to learn, asking when I don't know something, being honest when I'm not sure of something so she can be confident I'm not about to do something unsafe, being on time and being friendly. A good working relationship depends on both parties playing their part after all.