Martha Ndlovu-Teijema

Cape Town South Africa, PhD student for the Amsterdam University Medical Centres, placed at the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

One of my most important experiences as a mentor was been during my time as a nurse. I worked on a delivery ward. I mentored nurses in training. One of the trainee nurses assigned to me was very good in nursing theory. However she struggled with practical tasks. She wasn't getting things done on time. She had difficulty managing patient care, and oversight. Most of the trainee nurses on the ward were already registered nurses.

They were there train for their specialisation. This was the first time we had a trainee who was not yet a registered nurse in training on the ward. I realised that because this was part of her basic training the nurse in question did not yet have the practical skills that we would normally expect of our trainees. Very soon the other nurses decided that the trainee was incompetent and set her aside. I disagreed. I felt she was capable. She just came from a different background than we were used to.

I requested a meeting with the head of the ward. I offered to mentor the trainee. I spoke with my mentee about her expectations, her school’s requirements and how she thought these could be better brought in line. I told her that I believed in her and that I would help her. Based on our talks she rewrote her learning plan for the ward. She left the ward with a good mark and a recommendation for the next ward. She now is a specialised nurse in the Intensive Care Unit.

This situation taught me to rely on my judgement of people and to stand up for my mentee. I felt it was my task to make my view of the nurse clear to the ward. I asked her what she expected from us and what her school expected from her. Together we made it clear to everyone where the starting point was and what her learning goals would be. I was mentored when I was training to become a nurse. Being a mentee was an experience that was very important to me. I am a very independent person. As a mentee I sometimes struggled to ask help.

When I was training as a nurse I was forced to request help and input from my mentor. Patient safety is paramount. I realised that I could be dangerous for my patients because of what I did not know.This responsibility showed me that asking for help and input really works and brings you further than struggling by yourself. Before becoming a nurse I worked as an army officer. That job often required decision-making with incomplete information.

I sometimes had to make decisions that would affect me and my whole platoon. Now, whilst doing my PhD, I have learned again that asking for help is not a bad thing. It will always be a bit off a struggle for me, since I want to figure things out myself, but I definitely learned that asking help is, in fact, a strong skill.