Celebrating International Nurses Day 2017 … Profiling three amazing nursing leaders

Celebrating International Nurses Day 2017 … Profiling three amazing nursing leaders

The theme of this year’s International Nurses Day is ‘Nurses … a voice to lead’. So much has been written about nursing leadership … definitions of leadership, leadership theories and styles, leadership attributes and approaches etc … so, rather than revisit much of what we already know, this blog post illustrates my personal philosophy of leadership as illustrated in the life and work of three nursing leaders who I’ve been honoured to know for many years.

Each of these leaders demonstrates leadership that is informed by empathy and a service orientation. Their values are evident in what they do and say and how they live their lives. Each of these women has overcome considerable personal challenges but has not succumbed to self-pity. Rather, their experiences have served to strengthen them and have become a source of inspiration for many. This year the International Council of Nurses encourages nurses to use their voice and share their stories. So in this blog I share the stories of Jean Gersbach, Glenys Chapman and Pamela van der Riet, three incredible nursing leaders … Read more

20 expert tips for improving the quality of your mentoring

20 expert tips for improving the quality of your mentoring

The ‘tips for improving the quality of mentoring’ provided in this post were developed by Alexandria Wilson and Micaela Cassar, and were originally presented as an educational poster submitted during their undergraduate nursing degree. As Alexandria and Micaela were mentored by a number of nurses while completing their clinical placements, they are well positioned to provide these illuminative, evidence-based and practical insights about mentoring. I feel honoured that they have given me permission to share these important tips on my blog.




Important attributes for an effective mentor include commitment, motivation, enthusiasm, positivity and passion. Skilled mentors respect and value students as learners and contributing members of the nursing team. The quality of students’ clinical learning experience can be undermined by being allocated to nurses who are unwilling or unprepared to be a mentor [1].


Introduce yourself and the other team members to the students and orientate them to the ward/facility. Welcoming students facilitates their socialisation, belongingness and acceptance as a member of the healthcare team [2].  When students feel unwelcome or as if they are a burden they are less motivated to learn [1].


Clear expectations are essential for students’ progress and success [4]. By making the ‘ground rules’ explicit, students fully understand how their performance will be evaluated [3].


Effective mentors have a high level of emotional intelligence. This attribute allows mentors to manage their own and others emotions, and demonstrate sensitivity to students’ needs, feelings and concerns. [1].


Creating a meaningful learning experience for students requires that you first understand their scope of practice, goals and learning objectives. Students will be more motivated and responsive to feedback when specific and realistic learning objectives are agreed upon [3].


Agree on a ‘safe’ word or phrase that can be used when issues related to patient safety arise. ‘Safe’ words can be used when mentors need to step in and take over a patient’s care from the student, without making their concerns obvious to the patient [1].


Facilitate transfer of learning from theory to practice by adhering to best-practice guidelines, providing rationales for your care, and asking students to explain the reasoning that underpins their decisions and actions [5].  Clinical competence is enhanced when students are able to assimilate theory and practice [6].


Give students permission to ask questions and question your practice. Keeping the channels of communication open in this way empowers students to become active learners and facilitates their ability to link theory and practice [1].


Provide a variety of challenging and practical learning opportunities for students to optimise their clinical learning and confidence [7].  Opportunistic ‘just-in-time’ teaching increases students’ satisfaction and motivation [1].


Ask challenging questions that promote critical thinking and clinical reasoning, for example, ‘What do you think we should do for this patient and why?’ Challenging questions stimulate higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills and encourage reflection in and on practice [8].

Mentoring is an ancient archetype originating in Greek mythology. Homer described how Odysseus, King of Ithaca, left home to fight in the Trojan War and entrusted the care of his son, Telemachos, to Mentor, his wise and faithful advisor. Mentor served as Telemachos’ protector, teacher and guide for many years. The word Mentor has evolved to mean trusted advisor, friend and teacher; and mentoring refers to a developmental relationship where an experienced person invests time and energy in supporting the growth and actualisation of a less experienced protégé.


Share your knowledge, experience and previous mistakes with students to help them learn and avoid common errors in the future [9]. Mentors who are willing to honestly share their experiences promote students’ trust and clinical skills and knowledge development [5].


Model the ability to think aloud, for example during medication administration. This gives students insights into the cognitive and metacognitive processes than underpin expert practice.  Also encourage students to think aloud in clinical situations as this enables mentors to provide constructive feedback about their clinical reasoning processes [8].


Effective interprofessional communication, collaboration and teamwork are critical to patient safety. Involving students in team-based clinical activities enhances their skills and confidence in working with other members of the multidisciplinary team, aids workplace readiness [8], and facilitates a sense of belonging [2].


Demonstrate that you value the knowledge that students have gained from their undergraduate studies and that you are committed to your own  lifelong learning  [10].


Give regular and constructive feedback to students about their performance. Feedback must be clear, specific, accurate, immediate, sensitive, direct, and provide a balance of positive and negative examples. Appropriate and timely feedback when clearly communicated can increase students’ motivation, confidence and competence. Constructive feedback is essential to improved performance and quality patient care [3].


When students are not practicing at the required level clearly communicate and document your concerns. Provide strategies, opportunities and support that will facilitate improvement.  Be prepared to fail students if they continue to practice in an unsafe or unprofessional manner [11].


If conflict arises manage it politely and respectfully using negotiation, communication, compromise, and problem-solving skills. Mentors and students may hold differing opinions, values, ideas, or perceptions, therefore it is vital that mentors are confident in resolving conflict [1].


Debrief should occur both spontaneously and regularly. When challenging situations arise, for example, when a student witnesses a patient’s death or a cardiac arrest for the first time,  a debrief is essential. Effective debriefing can prevent psychological harm by allowing students to talk about and process the event with the support of someone they trust [8].


Encourage students to reflect on their clinical performance and decisions. Reflection assists learners to examine their strengths and areas in need of improvement, and to identify meaningful strategies to improve their future practice.  Mentors can also use these reflective processes to identify students’ future learning needs [8].


Mentors should honestly reflect on the effectiveness and outcomes of their mentoring.  Ask students to provide honest feedback about their experience of being mentored and use this information to help you identify personal strengths and areas in need of improvement as part of your ongoing professional development [5].

Mentors remind us that we can indeed survive the terror of the coming journey and undergo the transformation by moving through, not around our fear. Mentors give us the magic that allows us to enter the darkness, a talisman to protect us from evil spells, a gem of wise advice, a map, and sometimes simply courage. But always the mentor appears near the onset of the journey as a helper, equipping us in some way for what is to come, a midwife to our dreams, a ‘keeper of the promise’. Success is a lot more slippery without a mentor to show us the ropes. The mentor is clearly concerned with the transmission of wisdom. They do this by leading us on the journey of our lives. We trust them because they have been there before. They embody our hopes, cast light on the way ahead, interpret arcane signs, warn us of lurking dangers, and point out unexpected delights along the way [12; 13].



How to be a good mentor. These TED talks will help you to help others succeed: https://www.ted.com/playlists/400/how_to_be_a_good_mentor



  1. Sinclair, P., Pich, J., Hennessy, M., Wooding, J., Williams, J., Young, S. & Schoch, M. (2015). Mentorship in the health disciplines. Renal Society of Australasia Journal, 11(1), 41-46.
  2. Jokelainen, M., Turunen, H., Tossavainen, K., Jamookeeah, D. & Coco, K. (2011). A systematic review of mentoring nursing students in clinical placements. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 20(19/20), 2854-2867.
  3. Duffy, K. (2013). Providing constructive feedback to students during mentoring. Nursing Standard, 27(31), 50-56.
  4. Brown, B. (2012). Development of a mentoring program for nursing students with plans for implementation and evaluation. The Journal of Chi Eta Phi Sorority, 56(1), 5-10.
  5. Valente, G., Cortez, E., Cavalcanti, A., Cosme, F. & Goncalves, L. (2014). Nursing Mentoring in Primary Care: Building Skills from Practice. Journal of Nursing UFPE, 8(9), 3047-3058
  6. Haidar, E. (2007). Coaching and mentoring nursing students. Nursing Management, 14(8), 32-35.
  7. Muleya, C., Marshall, J. & Ashwin, C. (2015). Nursing and midwifery students’ perception and experiences of mentorship: a systematic review. Open Journal of Nursing, 5(6), 571-586.
  8. Ness, V., Duffy, K., McCallum, J. & Price, L. (2010). Supporting and mentoring students in practice. Nursing Standard, 25(1), 41-46.
  9. Mentoring Relationships. (2013). Minnesota Nursing Accent, 85(1), 12-20.
  10. Halcomb, E., Peters, K. & McInnes, S. (2012). Practice nurses experiences of mentoring undergraduate nursing students in Australian general practice. Nurse Education Today, 32(5), 524-528.
  11. Huybrecht, S., Loeckx, W., Quaeyhaegens, Y., De Tobel, D. & Mistiaen, W. (2011). Mentoring in nursing education: Perceived characteristics of mentors and the consequences of mentorship. Nurse Education Today, 31(3), 274-278.
  12. DalozN. Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners. San Francisco: Jossey Bass; 1999.
  13. ParkesS. The Critical Years: the Young Adult’s Search for Faith to Live By. San Francisco: Harper; 1986.


What a good nurse! Reflections on stories that stereotype and those that don’t

What a good nurse! Reflections on stories that stereotype and those that don’t

This week I am delighted to introduce our guest blogger, Professor Margaret McAllister, a friend and warmly regarded colleague. Margaret is a gifted story teller and researcher whose written works and conference presentations are both engaging and provocative. In this post Margaret dispels some of the myths associated with ‘the good nurse’ and challenges educators to consider the use of negative stories in their teaching.


Tracy, a captivating storyteller herself, has previously written in her blog about the benefits to healthcare students and professionals when they contemplate powerful stories. Illness and resilience stories humanise the healthcare experience, and because they are often imbued with layers of meaning, can prompt critical reflection. This reflection can go several ways – we can be motivated to think back on the story and perhaps our own lives, and we can be urged to think ahead towards the future, perhaps changing the way we think or act. This is the transformative power of compelling stories. Another benefit of stories is that they come in multiple modes and so, when available, we can access them by reading, viewing, or listening.

Tracy and I have partnered up with colleagues on several occasions to share stories and teaching approaches designed to deepen learners’ engagement [1, 2]. Stories don’t have to be factual to have impact; well-drawn fictional tales can teach us important lessons on being human – think of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Good Will Hunting, for example.

I and several other scholars have argued elsewhere that the media don’t always get it right in conveying the complexity of nursing practice and mainstream films and tabloid newspapers can be criticised for perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes about nurses and doctors. In 2004 the Telegraph screamed, “Are young nurses too posh to wash?” which really didn’t do too much good for nursing’s long struggle to achieve university status equivalent to our colleagues in medicine, physio, occupational therapy, and the like. The hidden stereotype in such a claim is that to be a nurse you don’t need a university education and indeed it is something to be ashamed of.

Another ongoing stereotype about nursing, sometimes effectively achieving sympathy and gratitude in the public, is the idea that nurses are angelic – omnipotent and omniscient – knowing the answer to every query, and able to anticipate a patient’s every need. This is a fairly unreasonable stereotype and  a difficult one to live up to! It is also dehumanising as nurses aren’t angels, they are human beings, capable of doing good, but also capable of making mistakes.


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