How to Help a struggling student...

1.       Have patience.

The saying ‘patience is a virtue’ is needed with all students, though particularly when one is struggling. Instead of getting frustrated with students for not being at the level or stage you believe they should be at. Provide the student with strategies on how they can improve and areas to focus on. Take small steps and try not to overwhelm the student, this will turn their placement into a positive learning experience.

2.       Everything has changed, have compassion.

Courses are absolutely different from what they were even 3 years ago. Design, learning and content is constantly evolving, and will continue to do so. No one student is the same, students are individuals, and have different learning styles and will also be at different stages. Ask the student where they are at, what their learning needs are, and what their objectives are for the particular clinical placement. Having clear and measurable goals will help everyone be on the same page. Encourage the student to think aloud when working through problems so you can gain insight into their thinking pathways, provide guidance and feedback.

3.       Understand their scope of practice.

Every student and course is different, and can be very confusing for a preceptor. The best way to navigate this is to ask the student and also be familiar with their scope of practice and expectations (they will have a document that outlines this). With more clarity, you will be able to provide your student with more opportunities and strategies to develop as a Nurse/Midwife and get the most out of each patient encounter.

4.       Did a little deeper.

Never make assumptions if your student is under performing, there may be numerous reasons for this. Create a safe environment for them to ask questions, learn and share their worries or concerns. Often when students are struggling it isn’t because they don’t know the content, often it is a lack of confidence and being embarrassed about maybe answering a question wrong. It is only when we allow vulnerability within ourselves to learn and grow, that we can support and foster this in others too.

5.       Give them the chance to go and work it out.

No one is a walking textbook! If your student doesn’t know the answer to something encourage them to go and seek the answers, show them the resources you use, and encourage them to continue investigating. Ask students probing questions, really challenge them on the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of clinical practice and patient safety.

6.       Point them in the right direction.

Encourage self-directed learning. When they have questions, point them to resources, or answer their question with a question such as “what do you think?” or “where would you look to find that out?” This will not only empower confidence in them when they find it themselves, but allow you as the preceptor some breathing space too.  

 By Elyse Coffey in collaboration with Amy Benn