Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What makes a great midwifery mentor?

The other day I had a lovely lunch with a dear friend who was visiting from England for a couple of weeks. Kate was one of my mentors when I was a student and newly registered midwife, working at Odstock hospital maternity unit in Salisbury, UK.

We spent the whole time reminiscing about the good old days (which to my horror were 28 years ago!) which got me reflecting on the qualities that midwives such as Kate displayed all those years ago, and why they made such an impact on me.

As a result of my reflections I have come up with my five top attributes that make a great midwifery mentor.

1. Knowledgeable
It seemed to me that there wasn't much Kate didn't know, which made her an incredible resource for me. This in turn made me feel confident in my own practice because I always knew she'd be able to point me in the right direction if I got a little lost.

2. Accessible
It goes without saying that a midwife can be the most knowledgeable person in the world, but if she is scary and unapproachable, then a student or new midwife will find it too stressful to talk to her. I remember a number of midwives like that...they made no contribution to my growth as a midwife other than me determining that I didn't want to be like them.

3. Hands off
By this, I mean that a great mentor will allow you to do your thing...to grow and develop...but keep a watchful eye and step in if you're about to make a horrible mistake. There's nothing worse than a midwife who doesn't trust you. That only makes you lose confidence, which in turn impacts on your practice. 

4. Secure in the midwifery role
The thing that really stands out about Kate and the other midwives like her was that they were secure in their role as midwives. They worked really well in the team with obstetricians and paediatricians but they knew their stuff and were very clear about midwives' work. They were strong and did not tolerate unnecessary medical intervention. But they were also expert in recognising when things were abnormal and knew exactly when it was appropriate to refer to specialists. This was such good modelling which resulted in me being very sure what a midwife is and does.

5. Highly skilled
I don't suppose there is too much difference between knowledgeable and skilled, but what I am thinking of here was the way that Kate could handle more complex situations or an emergency. I never felt nervous that things would get out of hand. And Kate, and her colleagues, always appeared cool, calm and collected. Of course, I know that probably wasn't the case but a junior member of staff, all I could see was complete professionalism even in the most stressful circumstances.

It was delightful seeing Kate again and she certainly brought back some fabulous memories. I hope to go back to Odstock for a visit when I am in the UK in May, and catch up with some of those wonderful women I worked with all those years ago. I know I have never achieved their level of clinical skills but I hope a student midwife remembers me fondly as being someone who made a difference to her practice.

Do you have a mentor you remember from years ago? What do you remember about him or her? If you are a student midwife, what attributes do you want the midwives you work with to display?


Anonymous said...

Hi :) I'm just coming to the end of my first year as a student midwife and i completely agree with the 5 qualities above. I feel especially strongly about number 3. I have experienced placements where i feel my mentor did not let me do enough, and know some of my colleagues have felt a bit overwhelmed when their mentor expected them to do too much too soon. I am currently on a placement where i think my mentor has got this balance just right and i think it is fantastic! I have only been on this placement for a few weeks and feel my confidence has grown so much!

Sarah Stewart said...

Hello, so glad to hear you're working with a good mentor. Recently, I have heard so many stories about crap mentors...it's such a relief to hear there are good ones out there :)

Anonymous said...

I am a new Zealand third year midwifery student almost ready to sit final exams to become a registered midwife. It is always comforting to know it is not 'just you' who feels this way, and I feel much solace and support in my own experiences, realising this actually is a shared experience.... I always try to see the point of the trainer midwife but in this country it is one on one and we work long hours with no pay... living the oncall diary of independent midwives without any notice... it is hard for us too... especially when midwives think u r an idiot but u still haveto work with them and be on call to pass the course!!