Developing and piloting a new role to enhance the clinical learning environment.
This paper describes a process evaluation project designed to enhance the strategic management of practice learning within a large Hospital in the North of England. The aim of the project was to introduce the role of the Learning Environment Manager with dedicated responsibility for practice learning of undergraduate student nurses within the Hospital's 49 practice-settings. Whilst aspects of this role were already evident in several of these settings, the project sought to locate and standardise responsibilities related to the organisation and management of learning and teaching in practice explicitly within the existing staffing structure of each practice-setting. Focus group interviews were used to explore significant aspects of the project with key stakeholder groups comprising Learning Environment Managers, the Hospital Clinical Educator, Hospital Department Managers, Ward Managers, Mentors, University Link Lecturers and undergraduate Student Nurses. Interview data were analysed using thematic content analysis. The findings of the project suggest that the Learning Environment Manager role affords providers of practice learning with a robust approach to establish organisation-wide benchmarks that standardise the strategic management of practice learning in collaboration with partner Universities. The role incorporated many operational activities previously undertaken by the Hospital Clinical Educator, thus enabling the Hospital Clinical Educator to make a more strategic contribution to the on-going quality monitoring and enhancement of practice learning across the Hospital. The Learning Environment Manager role was found to provide mentors with high levels of support which in turn helped to promote consistent, positive and holistic practice learning experiences for undergraduate student nurses across the Hospital. Importantly, the role offers a potent catalyst for nurses in practice to regain responsibility for practice learning and re-establish the value of practice teaching.