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Supporting Learners

I am a nurse and i have been asked to support learners in the practice setting.

Who is a “learner”?

Learners are not limited to nursing students. A learner can be:

  • a person studying to become a nurse,
  • a nurse newly registered with CNO,
  • a nurse new to Ontario practice,
  • an experienced nurse entering a new practice setting, or learning about a new health issue
  • another health care professional

What are my accountabilities when supporting a learner?

Regardless of role or title, nurses are accountable to:

  • ensure they have the knowledge, skill, and judgment to guide, supervise or support the learner safely and competently
  • support learners in developing and refining competencies needed for safe, ethical and effective practice
  • provide orientation, direction, collaborate, and share knowledge and expertise
  • monitor and document their evaluation (as per organizational policies, if applicable)
  • provide feedback on their practice and encourage self-reflection to identify learning needs

While nurses are accountable to support learners, their primary accountability is to place patient safety and well-being above all other objectives.  

Why is it my accountability to  support learners?

CNO’s Code of Conduct and Professional Standards outline that nurses are accountable to support, mentor and teach learners. One way nurses do this is by acting as role models and sharing their knowledge and expertise with new learners.

When nurses support learners, everyone benefits.

  • Learners benefit as they are able to identify their learning needs and increase their knowledge, skill and judgment to practice safely
  • Nurses benefit from working in a learning environment that encourages professional growth, career development and high-quality patient care.
  • The entire health care team becomes more effective when nurses support learners because learners are increasing their knowledge and skills to provide quality patient care.

What if I feel that I cannot support a learner?

In circumstances where a nurse does not feel they have the capacity to support a learner, they are encouraged to discuss their concerns with their employer and/or broader health care team to plan other ways to support the learner. For example:

  • Working with the employer around the possibility of having a mentor or resource nurse to provide guidance while supporting a new learner, or
  • Advocating for additional training or education to support learners

I am a novice nurse and am being asked to support a new learner. Do I have the competencies to fulfill this role?

All nurses are prepared as generalists to practice safely, competently, and ethically. You can support a new learner at any stage as a nurse if you practice within your scope and seek guidance as needed.

If the learner makes a mistake, am I accountable for the mistake?

When a learner makes a mistake, nurses need to consider the context of the mistake. For example, nurses are not accountable for the decisions of others when the actions are unknown or unexpected.  

Learners are accountable for their own actions and patient outcomes. Nurses take action in situations that compromise patient safety and well-being. Nurses also take responsibility for errors when they occur. For example, nurses provide constructive feedback to learners and the organization that is in the interest of patient safety and helpful to learning and professional growth.

If nursing preceptors have concerns about the performance of new nurses, they should speak with their employer.

Performance concerns of unregulated care providers should reported to the employer.

For performance concerns of students, nursing preceptors are encouraged to contact the academic institution and/or academic advisor the learner is affiliated with.

Who are learners accountable to?

Nursing students are accountable to their educational institutions and placement organization.

Learners, who are regulated health professionals, are accountable to the CNO and uphold the standards of the profession.

Unregulated care providers are accountable to their employers.

What questions should I consider when supporting and assessing learners?

When supporting learners:When assessing learners:
  • How am I making myself available to the learner to support their learning?
  • How am I ensuring the learner's supervision is appropriate?
  • Am I setting clear goals that align with the learner's learning plan and providing timely feedback?
  • How am I adapting my approach to teaching to meet the learner's needs?
  • What educational resources and opportunities can I provide the learner to acquire new knowledge and skills?
  • What is the learner's knowledge, skill and judgment related to the practice setting?
  • What is the learner's scope of responsibilities, practice limitations and legislated authority (including employer policies)?
  • Have I reviewed and discussed the learning plan with the learner (if applicable)?
  • Have I identified any knowledge needs that may prevent the learner from practicing safely and competently?

What questions should I consider when assessing the learning environment?

  • Does the practice setting support learning?
  • How am I advocating for an appropriate learning environment?
  • Have I clarified the learner’s and nurse’s responsibilities?
  • Is the learner’s assignment appropriate for the learner’s goals and objectives?
  • What necessary systems and resources are in place to support the learner in a new environment (e.g., organizational policies, human resources, environmental resources)?
Page last reviewed October 18, 2022