By Ahonen, Kathleen A.
American Nurse Today , Vol. 8, No. 5
Ideally, staff nurses act as resources, role models, and facilitators of nursing skills.
The staff nurse plays an integral role in clinical nursing education, helping to prepare undergraduate nursing students for professional practice. A positive and enriched learning environment can influence a student's perception of the healthcare facility as a possible future employment site. As healthcare reform continues to alter the healthcare workforce, providing positive clinical learning experiences can aid recruitment of future nursing staff.
But while many staff nurses find the teaching role satisfying, others don't see it as their responsibility. Greater patient acuity, high nurse-to-patient ratios, and increased workloads stop some nurses from participating in students' education.
The student-staff nurse relationship profoundly affects learning. Not all staff nurses have formal preparation for the role of mentor or are responsible for evaluating a student's clinical performance. Staff nurses are meant to be resources for students when faculty members are unavailable. They also serve as nursing role models and educational facilitators of practical nursing skills. This socialization into the profession is a crucial component of the student's education.
Practice makes perfect
Applying classroom concepts to actual practice is an exciting and anticipated part of the curriculum for young, eager nursing students. They arrive with theory, knowledge, and simulated laboratory experience, ready to practice nursing skills on real patients.
Partnerships between staff nurses and students
Nursing students are partnered with staff nurses as an extension of the learning model and are supervised by a faculty member. A positive experience in the clinical site with a dedicated, kind, nurturing role model can promote learning. A negative experience with an overburdened, unpleasant, uninterested mentor can impede learning.
Clinical preparation is crucial. Hospital surveys have shown new nurses have high expectations. Many staff nurses, on the other hand, believe nursing education programs don't adequately prepare new staff for increased patient acuity and blame a lack of clinical-skills preparation. Yet some of these same nurses dislike teaching nursing students.
Students' attitudes and expectations also affect clinical learning. How strong is the student's desire to learn? Is the student self-directed? New learners lack experience, which contributes to increased stress. They're also less self-directed and need more nurturing and structure in their learning environment. Undergraduates tend to focus narrowly on basic tasks and skills; experienced nurses see the broader picture.
Clinical settings place a high priority on clinical competency. Yet new learners may be awkward and slow, which can frustrate a hurried clinician. Effective mentors have such characteristic behaviors as guiding, cooperating, supporting, and listening actively. (See Effective mentoring behaviors.) When staff nurses lack these characteristics, nursing students may be afraid to ask questions and may lose their confidence. If these mentoring deficiencies persist throughout the student's clinical experience, it creates a poor learning environment for everyone. On the other hand, if a mentor interjects simple praise or suggestions, such as "Take your time, you're doing fine" or "Try positioning the lead farther over here," this may calm the student--and reassure the patient that the clinical situation is under professional supervision.
Clinical teaching challenges
Many challenges exist in clinical teaching. Some challenges, such as lack of clinical sites and poor attitudes from patients, are outside educators' control. Students and faculty also face obstacles from within. Although staff nurses work closely with students, few are adequately prepared or formally recognized for their role as clinical facilitators. …