On being a mentor – Seeking the Yoda of the paramedic profession.

One of my favourite aspects of being a paramedic is mentoring students. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a student myself and my mentor certainly shaped the way I do my job now. It’s truly rewarding seeing someone progress and develop as a clinician and helping them along the way, I really enjoy it. As a mentor you have the privilege and responsibility of helping students translate theory into practice and making sense of what is learned in the classroom a reality (1).

When I was a student you were allocated a mentor and stayed with them for the whole 3 years of training, following their shift pattern while on clinical placements. It works slightly differently now, student paramedics on the BSc course from our local university are moved between stations every few months, getting to work with several different paramedics during the course of their academic year and I think this is a better way.

Working with the same mentor for three years allows the risk of becoming a mini clone of your mentor (depending on who your mentor is, this could be good or bad); working with others allows you to pick up aspects of the way they work that you can incorporate into your own practice; it exposes you to working with unfamiliar people and going through the transition of working each other out and how you both like to do things; if, for whatever reason, you and your mentor don’t get on then you’re not stuck with them for three years and it takes you out of your comfort zone, not allowing you to become complacent.

To become a mentor I had to complete a mentorship module at our local uni. This includes a few days lectures, completing a portfolio and a 2000 word assignment at level 7 (masters (although you can do it at level 6)). Some have criticised the course as being excessively theory driven, however I must say I found it really useful and enjoyed the module. It taught me about the different learning styles students may have, how to manage failing students, how to create a lesson plan and understanding the so called ‘theory-practice gap’.

As a mentor,  some of your role includes helping your student make sense of practice through the application of theory; assessing, evaluating and providing constructive feedback; being a positive role model; helping students develop confidence in their role and providing the appropriate level of supervision (1).

I’ve worked with a number of different students since becoming a mentor and I must say, they’ve all been fantastic. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very caring, compassionate, competent, intelligent and mature (in attitude, not necessarily age) students who I have no doubt will all be excellent paramedics. I hope that their time working with me has helped them develop in some of these areas. I know not every mentor’s experience has been similar to mine, and I’m yet to work with a student who needs more support and guidance in getting them through. The truth is not everyone will get through, not every student who gets onto a paramedic course will complete it and we’d be failing the students and our patients if we ignored this and just passed everyone that went through the course. It may be an uncomfortable process to go through, but it would be irresponsible to allow someone to qualify that clearly shouldn’t have. It’s easy to think that you have failed as a mentor if you have to fail your student, but this isn’t the case if all the proper support has been offered and all of the proper processes gone through.

Fortunately for me, all the students I’ve worked with so far show real promise!

I recently worked with two different students over a run of three shifts (both have given permission to write about them). One of them was a first-year student who was on their first clinical placement. They had gone through some modules at uni and knew the basics. It was great to work with this student and try to teach them as much as I could about anatomy and physiology; patient assessment; how to use the kit and equipment; the nuances of the job and thinking about the social aspect of patient care. I really enjoyed trying to help this student as much as I could, without overwhelming them (hopefully!). It also highlighted some areas that I needed to brush up on myself! Having students work with you keeps you on your toes. You want to make sure you’re as clinically up to date as you can be so that you can teach your students to be the best clinicians they can be. And you certainly learn a lot from them as well!

The second student I worked with was just weeks away from graduating and starting his job as a qualified paramedic. This was a different experience and required a different level of mentoring. By this point in their course, this student was very competent and capable, and needed little more than observing and support, much in the same way that a regular crew mate would give. I had worked with this student at a different ambulance station earlier on in their training and it was really rewarding to see how much they had progressed. I have no doubt he will qualify with no issues and be an excellent paramedic.

When I did my paramedic training, there were only 8 of us on our course. Arranging shifts and getting placements was not an issue. However, the cohort sizes at our local university are increasing year on year, with the latest cohort up to 50 students. That will mean 150 students needing mentors and shifts to book on to. How this will work, I’m not entirely sure, but if it means having students on every shift, I personally have no problem with that. Not only do I enjoy helping students develop and learn, but having 3 paris on a truck is always useful, especially when it comes to carry kit and lifting people! A shift with 3 people on a truck always feels slightly easier.

Another area I wonder about is theatre placements for intubation training. I was the only student paramedic on theatre placement during my intubation training, and it was difficult enough to get enough tubes! The future of paramedics intubating is another issue that I won’t get into now.

The fact is, there is a shortage of paramedics across the country, so we need to be training more and more of them so that we have a well resourced and highly trained ambulance service, capable of delivering excellent care to patients. This means we need as many mentors as possible who will be able to capably support their students through their training.

I find being a mentor a highly enjoyable and rewarding. Not only do I get to help others develop as clinicians, but I get to benefit as well. I really look forward to helping more students in the future. What I do think is important is that mentorship and support doesn’t just stop once you qualify as a paramedic. Clinical supervision is important for staff to be adequately supported in their decision making and their professional development. Clinical supervision helps paramedics maintain a high level of clinical standards, professional standards, contributes to requirements of HCPC of CPD, and gives the opportunity for evaluation of performance. This is linked with good clinical governance. Ambulance trusts also benefit as clinical supervision has been associated with higher level of job satisfaction, improved retention, reduced turnover and it increases employees perceptions of organisational support(2).

1- Royal College of Nursing – Guidance for mentors of nursing students and midwives.

2- Care Quality Commission (2013) Supporting information and guidance: Supporting effective clinical supervision. Care Quality Commission.

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2 thoughts on “On being a mentor – Seeking the Yoda of the paramedic profession.

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  1. Times are a changn’… I started in the job in an Australian state based ambulance service in the late 90s. After a probationary/trainee year, you may have been lucky enough to get a roster or two with someone senior and then wham! You’re given a trainee yourself. This cycle seemed to go on for years. Actually it did. And I remember thinking at the time “I’m just trying to learn the job myself and I’m supposed to teach these guys?!” I enjoyed mentoring (haha…spell check just came up with “tormenting”) and did the best I could, but it’s not the best way forward. And speaking about tormenting – doesn’t everyone have a story of a mentor that just loved the power of being “above” a student? I certainly did and was the hardest time I’ve done in the job.

    But things are different now. Trainees are often paired with experienced qualified paramedics and the following year are paired (if possible) with ICPs. There’s still a mix of vocational ed and uni students coming through so it may run a little different now.

    At the end of the day, whatever the service or whatever the location, if you have a mentor that wants to teach and a student that wants to learn, then the sky’s the limit…

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