‘Stop! Don’t drop that.’
‘You’re going to need to get out of my way.’
‘Have you bleached that down correctly?’
‘If I leave you to it, you’ll do it wrong, so watch me carefully while I show you.’
Students midwives get a lot of feedback, all the time. Midwives have physical, emotional and intellectual skills stretching in every direction. Students need a lot of information fast if they’re going to learn to swim.
As a mentor sometimes it feels natural to ‘get on with it’ and give student tips on everything that could be improved each time you see a problem.
It’s also stressful if you think a student could do something dangerous under your pin.
But do you remember what it's like to be a student? Working with a particular mentor meant I’d be given feedback along the lines of the opening quotes of this post within my first half hour on shift. It wasn’t actionable because there was too much of it. Every time I worked with her I felt like I was lowering myself into a tank of piranhas. Eventually, I put a shield up and ignored some things, which defeated the point of working with a mentor in the first place.
Studies suggest that positive feedback makes for faster learning than negative feedback.
So if you can include positive feedback as you go, this should help with students’ learning.
Of course, criticism is necessary. As an experienced midwife, you’ll see things that your student isn’t aware of yet and they need to be accountable for their actions.
But I’d suggest you need to feel a bit vulnerable yourself when you give criticism. This is the missing piece of the puzzle for me. The need for vulnerability is because you might not understand exactly why the student is struggling. Just like in midwifery practice itself, if we think we’re perfect at mentoring, we’ve probably stopped learning. If you’re not feeling open, engaged and concerned with how you’re being received, you may not be giving criticism that a student can really get to grips with.
Every midwife should be empathetic and compassionate. I wonder if we can look after these qualities more in practice while still helping students learn, by being a bit more understanding of their learning needs.
I’d say after about 20 pieces of full-on criticism, the majority of students will shut down and not be able to change their behaviour or take on board information anyway.
I know there are many amazing mentors giving a balance of criticism and feedback already. I also know it's one of the hardest jobs in the world and we can't thank you enough. I just wanted to put this experience into words because I think it's not talked about enough.
To kindness in midwifery,
P.S. Do you have any suggestions for supporting learning in student midwives? Hit reply and let myself and the Bradford Midwifery Society know.
P.P.S. Remember The Kindness Conference is 11th November 2017 in Bradford.