In February, nursing teaching staff and students from Italy, Finland and Malta joined Middlesex University nursing professionals for an intensive two-week exchange programme, held at Middlesex's Hendon campus, north London. The exchange programme, Mentoring in Nursing in Europe (MINE), was supported with a major contribution from the European Union, following a successful competitive bid to the ERASMUS Fund by Middlesex staff.
This is the second time Middlesex University has received funding for an intensive programme. The programme complements Middlesex's BSc European Nursing degree, which enables students to spend a year of their three-year course at a partner institution in Europe. Middlesex's course, in partnership with the Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, Finland, is currently the only one in Europe offering this option.
The MINE programme has been developed in order to enhance communication across the partner countries and to work with practice mentors developing the students' practice learning experiences and tackling the challenges of undertaking a clinical nursing practice placement in another country.
Differing professional curricula, regulations and codes of conduct can present challenges to mentors and lecturers when trying to support exchange students. MINE aims to address some of these challenges, and to focus on ways in which mentor training and guidance skills can be improved, with both students and mentors can exchange experiences and learn from each other.
Before the programme started, Middlesex e-Learning Support Manager Alex Chapman set up a closed 'Facebook' group so the participants could get to know one another, share experiences and flag up issues they wanted to explore. This was brilliant in 'breaking the ice' and developing more understanding of how things work in different countries and institutions, prior to the intensive programme at Middlesex.
During the programme, students, mentors and staff worked together in mixed groups, with members from each country, exploring different issues, and pulling out common threads which they then presented to the whole group. Discussion topics included the differing professional regulations across the countries, what it means to be an Erasmus student in a practice placement, how nursing competencies are taught and assessed, different learning and assessment tools, and the processes for making clinical decisions in different European countries.
A highlight was the innovative way in which learning and teaching technologies were integrated into the programme, with students recording their findings using digital videos and blogs. These were shown in an excellent student-led conference on the final day, and will shape the basis of their assessment. Using interactive technologies such as Facebook and the students' blogs has encouraged communication within the group and is evolving into an active community of practice.
Bo Williams, a 2nd year student on Middlesex's European BSc in Adult Nursing, said: "The MINE programme has been brilliant...it's all about us! Discussions have been fascinating – there are lots of similarities in the way we work, many of the work issues we experience are the same as in other countries...it's very involving".
As part of her course, Bo will do an exchange placement in Malta next academic year. She said: "It was very helpful to meet the facilitators and programme directors who I'll be working with...I have a better idea of what will be expected of me". She concluded: "Meeting the other students and staff has given me a greater understanding of how things operate in the rest of Europe...it's opened my horizons - I've got a greater understanding of where I can go career-wise, where I could fit in".
Mentoring and teaching staff echoed this view. Sisko Kata, Practice Mentor at Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, Finland, said: "I think the programme will lead to better communications – mentors and students will understand each other's needs better, so it will be easier for us to work with our exchange students and develop their skills".
Josanne Grech, a Practice Mentor from the University of Malta, said: "It's a great opportunity to gain more understanding of students' expectations...it's good to share good practice...by interacting, we've realised we are all in the same boat, we all have these professional issues to deal with".
Middlesex mentor Daniella Collins, said: "It's a way to ensure competencies. Regulations and expectations are similar across the different countries we're working with. We hope to develop tool-kits from the knowledge and expertise which has been shared over the past two weeks, which will give mentors more guidance on teaching, assessment and mentoring processes".
Caroline Reid, Head of Learning Development, School of Health and Social Sciences, Middlesex University, said: "The programme has led to some really useful learning, sharing of experience and plans for the future. We were really pleased to win financial support for MINE from the ERASMUS fund... it has really helped us to broaden both the programme content and the number of participants we've been able to include".
Lynne Henshaw, Director of Adult Nursing Programmes and Programme Leader for the BSc European Nursing degree said: "We're delighted to welcome colleagues from our partner institutions to Middlesex and to see such a range of discussion and good practice being shared amongst students and mentors. We have developed the BSc Nursing Programme.
over the past 10 years, working initially with Satakunta University, Finland and more recently with the Universities of Florence and Malta as well. We look forward to continued success in working with all our partners to improve practice and develop the expertise of tomorrow's nursing professionals".
Perhaps the last word should go to Donatella Tombaccini, a Professor from the University of Florence. Donatella said: "It's a great opportunity for contacts with our European counterparts and a chance for students to see different perspectives and get more understanding of different ways of teaching nursing. The world is getting so small, there are so many multinational collaborations in war zones, natural disasters, situations where people need to make very quick decisions - having better knowledge of your colleagues' working practices will undoubtedly help professionals working in those situations".