What Is An Effective Preceptor?

NursingMarch 14, 2017

The nursing preceptorship model is designed to help newly minted nurses fit into a given workplace seamlessly, effectively, and safely. Nursing requires you to assume more than a little responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of patients who may be highly vulnerable. With your BSN degree in hand, as a new nurse graduate, you will probably be placed “on preceptorship” for up to half a year in your first job.

Despite your BS in Nursing, your new co-workers rightly assume that you will need some careful mentoring/monitoring at first. In addition to being good for you, this is for the good of your patients and the nursing team you will be joining. You may even be considered supernumerary; a term that’s loosely defined as serving as an extra pair of hands, with little direct responsibility. In the world of filmmaking, for instance, non-speaking extras are considered supernumerary.

But unlike an actor who doesn’t need to memorize lines, as a nurse on preceptorship, you’ll still be called upon to remember things you’ve already learned, in addition to adding new skills and knowledge on a daily basis. Your role as a new hire will be well defined, and your behavior and actions will be closely scrutinized. But the preceptorship relationship is a two-way street. So, what makes an effective preceptor?

Good preceptors are good at forging relationships.

Your transition from theory learned in BSN classes to skills that can be applied effectively in clinical practice will depend in large part on the relationship you build with your preceptor. He or she will need to be good at communication, and they should be skilled at identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

A good preceptor is someone who possesses solid clinical expertise, organizational skills, a knack for teaching, and plenty of patience. Ideally, they are volunteers in the role, with a certain level of enthusiasm for guiding and mentoring less-experienced nurses. Competence at building and fostering interpersonal relationships is a key skill for an effective preceptor.

Effective preceptors are skilled at assessing your learning needs and setting goals for improvement.

In other words, good preceptors are perceptive. Becoming an effective nurse involves more than doing assigned tasks. You also need to know how to prioritize those tasks and manage your time wisely. Your preceptor will assist you in this process of self-discovery. They will monitor your progress and note any challenges encountered, with an eye towards pointing out how you might manage things better in the future. They should be willing to let you act on your own, within limits, but available to render assistance as needed. They should be objective and non-judgmental, and adept at delivering critiques diplomatically.

Effective preceptors are excellent models of what it means to be an effective evidence-based nursing professional.

Ideally, a good preceptor demonstrates good professional behavior at all times. He or she models best practices, uses effective conflict-resolution skills, illustrates clear communication skills, and models the ability to collaborate with other professionals. They are respectful of co-workers and patients alike and help their charges adapt to the culture of the facility or unit where you will be working.

A good preceptor has received training designed to make him or her a better preceptor—and enjoys the full support of the organization. 

An effective preceptor begins with an effective preceptor program. To achieve an effective program, it’s important to engage everyone involved, from nurse educators to nurse managers, to the preceptors themselves. At the very least, nurse preceptors should have received at least a few hours of specific training in preparation for their role. Ideally, they will have attended classes on the subject, or otherwise received specialized training to enhance their ability to perform this crucial mentoring/teaching/monitoring role.