Mentoring-who has the power?

I am sat here just an hour away from heading out onto placement for a final shift on the ward I have been working on and am pondering the nightmare that is getting paperwork and skills signed off. Finding the time, apologising profusely for the massive amount of writing up of skills I do to justify that I am good enough, hoping the mentor feels the same and signs them…..will the anxiety ever stop?!

Part of my thought process has left me wondering about the power balance in the midwife mentor-student relationship. Ideally there would be no power imbalance and the mentor/student would be engaged in a mutual, respectful and supportive pairing but I feel this is unrealistic and ignores the fact that, as students, we are reliant on our mentors to provide good, honest feedback and ultimately grade us which can mean the passing or failing of our degree. Surely, even with my basic degree in psychology, this puts the power balance very firmly on the side of the mentor?

Students, generally, want to please our mentors and not just for the sake of a ‘good grade’ (I feel this is a little simplistic and patronising) but because we want to do well! As a second year I have not struggled and battled my way this far through a very difficult degree to be mediocre and just ‘ok’….I want to be GOOD and COMPETENT. This means when I am working with mentors I ask a million questions and watch, listen and then ask another million questions because I want to be the best I can be.

I wonder if mentors are trained and updated on the power they hold in the relationship? I am sure they are and every mentor I have been lucky enough to work with has been supportive and encouraging whilst providing excellent constructive feedback when needed. Have I been lucky though or is this standard? I am not so sure……

The issues of boundaries in the midwife mentor/student relationship is interesting. My previous career was in an appropriately, heavily ‘boundaried’ arena and I feel I am acutely aware of boundaries at all times but  there have been occasions when my mentor has been made aware of my personal circumstances when necessary as this will, of course, impact on my practice…..could this be perceived as over stepping a boundary? Or, for example, if I ask a mentor if she is ok because I know her child was ill and she left work early during our previous shift….is this overstepping a boundary?

Is this a little too ‘pally’?

What is ‘too friendly’?

What could be perceived as forging a ‘too close’ relationship with a mentor when you are together 8 hours a day/ 5 days week in a car and in clinic and you have your lunch together and you talk……most people come into this profession because we are compassionate so we reach out to each other as 2 women sharing information about our lives…..is this overstepping a boundary? What should we discuss? Should we limit ourselves to just discussing midwifery at all times? But this feels incongruent and, again, unrealistic.

Also, what of mentor-student relationships that are not nurturing but, dare I say it…..toxic and damaging? Where does that student go? Every student knows that we are reliant on the mentor for passing us therefore, dare we complain if we don’t feel happy? Dare we mention to our PEF, link lecturer, academic adviser, ward manager etc that we are not happy?

We SHOULD do but do we?

What if we are branded a trouble maker?

What if we are considered to not be resilient enough for this degree because we have struggled with a mentor?

What if we still have to work with that mentor and they know we have an issue with them?

What if we don’t have to work with that mentor but one of her colleagues and they know we have complained?

We absolutely MUST speak up if we are struggling as the damage of ‘carrying on regardless’ is insistent and could lead to further issues both psychologically and practically further down the line but I hope that midwife mentors are aware of the power they hold and that forging a good, strong, supportive relationship is tantamount to bringing out the best in a student and that the majority of students just want to be the best midwives we can be!

Thank you to every mentor who has treated me with kindness and compassion-you have modelled how to be an excellent midwife and excellent mentor.

To those students struggling with mentorship-please speak out.

 

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