Students threatening their assessor.

Students threatening their assessor.

Wandering my way through some research reports I came upon a study first published in the Journal of International Nursing 2016 by Dr Louise Hunt that examined the experiences of student mentors who were intimidated, threatened or subjected to emotional blackmail when they failed student nurses on placement in England.

Sadly this did not surprise me.  Over many years I have observed and experienced very disturbing behaviours when nurse students were failed on either theoretical or clinical testing.  It is understandable on a number of levels.

The investment in studies and consequences of failing are both a financial and emotional horror for many students.  My experience was however, that the majority of fail grades were evidence of lack of study or application.  Getting students to understand that fact is sometimes impossible.

Obviously, many collegial discussions about the need to fail a student and student reactions have been part of my nurse educator role.  Recruiting Registered Nurses to the role of mentor/clinical preceptor is often difficult.  Potential mentors are quite anxious about student responses to direction, correction or assessments.

What students rarely realise is no-one wants to fail them.  Their paranoia and conviction “they are picking on me” increases as the expectation for “competency and reliability” becomes more overt as they progress their studies.

Students are as varied as the rest of the population.  Some do feel intimidated and bullied when they face often for the first time sharp and sometimes frustrated interactions.  The collision of cultures is inevitable.  Some RN’s recall their own training as the only standard to apply and depending on age and place of that training it had a potential to be somewhat aggressive and militaristic.  Other mentors are so anxious to be supportive and friendly they do not give “early warning” of problems and the student remains oblivious until the fail grade is applied.

Just as most educators are convinced many students are skating through with little application, students are often convinced that the demands are unrealistic.  Experience means mentors “know” what are risks and outcomes so work to ensure negative outcomes are avoided.  Students are limited to here and now knowledge and perform only to the level they comprehend.  Expanding knowledge and developing a proactive approach takes time.  So too does competency!

Returning to the research paper, what did illuminate was the description of behaviours.  Naming and identifying the behaviours the students exhibited.  These would be valuable knowledge for anyone responding to reactions that cause discomfort and anxiety.  I decided I would build them into any future preceptor/mentor preparation and education.

I share them here as all of us at some time need to deal with such situations and all of us need “the right words” to articulate behaviours in order to both respond and reflect back to both correct and limit what might be habits of responses that will only make things worse.

See what you think.

Based on their findings, the researchers said they identified four types of coercive student behaviour:

  • Ingratiators – Students who bring themselves into favour by charming, obliging, indulging or emotionally exploiting the mentor
  • Diverters – Students who distract and redirect focus onto factors unconnected to the area of concern
  • Disparagers – Students who counter-challenge mentors in ways perceived as belittling, derogatory or professionally harmful
  • Aggressors – Students who initiate open hostility, making personal threats directly or via a third party, and on occasion carry these out.

That mentors/preceptors and teachers anywhere experience threatening or coercive behaviours are not new.  I do believe if we remain silent about the behaviours, lack the will to identify and correct not only student clinical work but their reactions and responses to assessment these strategies will become entrenched especially if they are successful and be carried forward to add another problem to our culture and professional practice.

There are some fabulous webinar recordings by Pam Savage regarding Nurses and the Law on the Nurses for Nurses Network . The  Nurses for Nurses Network provides good information and CPD  on an array of nursing topics  in a range  of easy learning ways including webinars and quizzes on the  latest information that Nurses need to know – remember the Nurses for Nurses Network was created by Australian Nurses for Nurses !

The thoughts of this blog are of the individual writer and not necessarily those of the Nurses for Nurses Network. To read our full disclaimer click here >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *