Supporting Students on Placement: Effective Strategies in Mental Health Nursing

Understanding personal VARK learning styles can be beneficial to learning effectively. Knowing these styles allows educators to develop approaches that work best with each student’s specific needs." – Peate et al., 2014


In mental health nursing, supporting student nurses during their placements is essential for their education and professional growth. This blog takes a deep look into the various strategies for effectively supporting students on placement, based on an essay titled "Supporting Students on Placement and Rationale on How This Can Be Done Effectively." We will explore the roles, challenges, and opportunities faced by mental health nurses in providing this support, ensuring that students gain the necessary skills and confidence to excel in their future careers.

Understanding the Role of Mental Health Nurses in Student Support

Mental health nurses have a vital role in the education and support of student nurses during their clinical placements. According to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) guidelines, practice supervisors are responsible for offering learning experiences that help student nurses develop and practice their skills. These opportunities include demonstrating and sharing knowledge, observing students, providing feedback on performance, and empowering them through delegation and encouragement. The NMC (2018) Code also emphasizes the importance of nurses acting as role models, inspiring student nurses to aspire to high standards of professional behavior and competence.

SWOT Analysis

The essay provides a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) of the clinical placement environment, highlighting its impact on student support.

  • Strengths: The clinical placement offers a rich learning environment where student nurses can observe and practice under the guidance of experienced nurses. It supports various learning styles, enhancing the educational experience.
  • Weaknesses: Defensive behaviors and poor role modeling can hinder learning. Organizational culture that prioritizes metrics over education can also negatively impact student support.
  • Opportunities: Placements provide opportunities for immediate, constructive feedback and exposure to complex real-world scenarios. Peer feedback and learning from good role models further enrich the experience.
  • Threats: Staff shortages and a focus on metrics can limit the time available for nurses to mentor students effectively.

Educational Standards and Practices

Educational standards and practices are essential for supporting student nurses. The NMC and Health Education England provide guidelines to ensure that students receive inclusive and tailored learning experiences. These standards emphasize the need for effective communication, constructive feedback, and the creation of a supportive learning environment. Understanding personal learning styles, such as those outlined in the VARK model (Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinaesthetic), allows educators to develop approaches that cater to individual needs, enhancing the overall learning experience.

Implementing Effective Support Strategies

Supporting students on placement involves more than just imparting knowledge. It requires a holistic approach that includes:

  1. Providing Constructive Feedback: Immediate feedback is crucial for promoting learning and development. Using methods like the "sandwich method," where constructive criticism is sandwiched between positive comments, can be particularly effective.

  2. Understanding Learning Styles: Recognizing and adapting to different learning styles can help tailor the educational experience to each student’s needs. For example, visual learners benefit from charts and diagrams, while kinaesthetic learners thrive through hands-on activities.

  3. Role Modeling: Good role models demonstrate professional behavior and effective nursing practices. Observing and emulating these behaviors can significantly impact a student’s learning and development.

Developing Professional Skills

The essay emphasizes the importance of developing key professional skills such as dealing with challenging behavior, delegation, and organizational skills. These competencies are essential for effective nursing practice and are developed through both theoretical learning and practical experience. A SMART action plan (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-oriented) is a useful tool for setting and achieving these development goals.

Supporting Student Nurses for Professional Growth

Supporting student nurses during their placements is crucial for their professional growth and the overall quality of healthcare. By following the guidelines and strategies outlined in the essay, mental health nurses can provide effective support, fostering a positive and enriching learning environment. This not only benefits the students but also contributes to the advancement of the nursing profession as a whole.

Sample Essay

Here is a short excerpt from the essay:

This essay evaluates the role that mental health nurses play in teaching and helping to support students in practice. It assesses the ways in which mental health nurses can do this, and it also considers the strengths and weaknesses that such nurses might have in this regard, and also the opportunities and threats faced in doing so. This is represented in a SWOT analysis seen in Appendix 1 and discussed within the body of this essay. The discussion also examines personal scope of practice and professional development, taking into account the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Code (2018). The latter is supported with a personal development action plan comprised of SMART goals seen in Appendix 2.

As indicated by the NMC (2018) practice supervisors have a responsibility to help with offering learning experiences that aid student nurses to develop and practice skills. There are a number of different types of opportunities to go about this, according to the NMC (2018), which are not limited to demonstrating and sharing knowledge, observing students, providing feedback on performance, helping students to benefit from learning opportunities, delegating to them and empowering them. Furthermore, the NMC (2018) Code requires nurses to behave as role models that student nurses aspire to. The NMC (2018) Code additionally explicitly states that nurses have a requirement to help students to learn so that they gain confidence and competence. Moreover, as Henderson (2007) postulate, a positive clinical experience working with inpatients can help actively engage students in learning to enable them to achieve their learning goals.

Understanding personal VARK learning styles can be beneficial to learning effectively (Peate et al., 2014). VARK is a model developed by Fleming in 1987, and it stands for Visual, Aural, Read/Write and Kinaesthetic (Peate et al., 2014). Bastable (2017) highlights that visual learners prefer to learn from visual prompts such as process charts and graphs, while aural learners learn best from listening and discussing. Read/write learners are those that learn via the written word and seek other sources of information for their learning, while kinaesthetic learners benefit best from doing and role play, in other words, hands-on learning (Bastable, 2017). Halstead and Billings (2016) explain that research shows that a total of 41% of people have a single preference in learning styles, but 21% use all four styles. Learning styles are important because if the learning styles of others are known and understood, those educating them can develop learning approaches that will work best with a person’s specific learning styles (Halstead and Billings, 2016).  However, while planning learning sessions would be the ideal, it should be understood that a considerable threat to nurses using opportunities to train students on shift is likely to be staff shortages in nursing. As Shembavnekar and Kelly (2023) highlight, a third of full time vacancies in the NHS in England are comprised of nursing vacancies. While lesson plans to support different learning styles might be an ideal, with staffing shortages at the levels suggested by Shembavnekar and Kelly (2023) it may not be very realistic to expect that mental health nurses can find time for this level of planning for training

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