In most institutions, nurse preceptorship is an important aspect of working within a successful, effective nursing team. When new graduates finally enter the workforce, with their shiny new RN to BSN degrees in hand, they arrive as well-prepared as can be expected. That’s not to say they’re necessarily ready to hit the ground running, though.
There’s a difference between learning facts, skills, and theory, and taking immediate responsibility for patient care on a floor with multiple patients, nurses, technicians, and doctors, in an entirely unfamiliar setting, with its own unique ways of doing things. The nurse preceptor is an experienced nurse assigned to help orient the new hire and show him or her the ropes.
Even older, experienced nurses reporting for duty in a new work environment will need help getting oriented. Everything from the physical layout of the institution, to the location of various types of supplies, to the idiosyncrasies of certain staff, to the proper use and maintenance of specialized equipment may be unfamiliar. Institution-specific policies and procedures will need to be reviewed and followed. The preceptor will assume responsibility for modeling the implementation of safe, effective nursing practices.
For optimal impact, here are some tips for nurse preceptors to follow:
1) Know your role.
Nurse preceptors are integral components of a given institution’s safe and effective healthcare delivery machinery, in a manner of speaking. Your roles, duties, and expectations will be defined by your particular workplace. A preceptor is many things: teacher, mentor, evaluator, resource, and unit-culture guide. As a preceptor, it’s your job to introduce new nurses to everything from hospital protocols to fellow personnel. Marshall your patience. You will probably need it. But remember, you were once standing in similarly new shoes.
2) Get off on the right foot.
The nurse you will be mentoring is probably eager and a little anxious. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into an RN to BSN program to get to this point. Try putting your charge at ease by telling them a little about yourself, your background, and your own passion for the nursing profession.
3) Clarify your goals.
As a preceptor, you will bear some responsibility for coaching a new member of an elite team. It’s your job to help your charge adapt and accept his or own responsibility for the safe, effective support of patients and other personnel. Set your own goals when you accept a preceptorship role. Ask yourself how you can use this experience as an opportunity for your own personal and professional growth. Perhaps mentoring another may expose certain of your own strengths or weaknesses. When it comes to assigning tasks to your charge, be sure to set clear expectations.
Clear, effective communication is an art. It’s also one of the keys to efficient teamwork. As a preceptor, it’s important that you make yourself available to answer any and all questions with patience and thoroughness. Be open and supportive. And speak clearly and directly. Miscommunication is a common source of errors.
Use feedback routinely. Both positive and negative can be instructive. If you observe your charge doing something well, say so. If you observe incorrect techniques or behavior, say so then, too. Keep your feedback encouraging and nonjudgmental. Model professionalism with your every word and action.
5) Be prepared.
If you are entrusted with the honor and responsibility of preceptorship, it probably means you’ve been assessed as prepared for the role. Your knowledge and on-the-job experience make you an excellent choice for trainer/mentor. But even natural-born teachers need some training of their own. If your employer offers it, take any preceptor training courses available to you. You’ll learn how to be an even more effective mentor, communicator, clinical competency evaluator, and modeler of professionalism.
6) Beware cockiness.
Your charge is probably anxious at best, and scared nearly witless at worst. Good. If he or she is overly confident, it could be a sign that they’re headed for disaster. Be alert for any signs that your new nurse does not fully grasp the true weight of responsibility they are about to assume. Lives are literally at stake. That’s nothing to scoff at.
7) Hold a daily mini-review.
Try to schedule a few moments at the end of the shift for a review of the day’s notable events. Discuss any issues of concern, and take a moment to reinforce any constructive criticisms, good or bad, you may have expressed throughout the day.