Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Being a Nurse Preceptor is hard…
With the looming nursing shortage, recruiting and retaining nurses is a top priority. As a preceptor, you have an important role to play. Your relationship with your nursing student is crucial to their development as a future nurse. Not only are you teaching them nursing skills, but you are also guiding them through their first foray into the healthcare system. You are representing our profession. We trust you to do it well.
But acting as a clinical preceptor to a student nurse isn’t most nurses’ dream job. Take all the responsibilities of bedside nursing and now add teaching and supervising a student to the list - all without a pay raise, or much direction.
Precepting is especially daunting if you’re a newer nurse. You might just be starting to feel comfortable at work, and now you’re supposed to teach the job to somebody else? I've been a working nurse for 18 months and have already precepted six different student nurses. It can be totally overwhelming.
As a nurse preceptor not yet too far removed from the nursing student role, I've developed some resources to help both nursing students and preceptors navigate the student-preceptor dynamic.
But so is being a Nursing Student.
But before you dive in, I ask that you pause to remember your first day of nursing school clinicals.
I remember mine like it was yesterday. (Truthfully, 2016 wasn’t that long ago.) I so badly wanted to make a good impression on my preceptor, but my nervous, sweaty hands couldn’t open a pill packet to save my life. Ten minutes into med pass, the nurse kindly took over “to give me a break.” I wanted to die.
Nursing students know they can be a burden to their preceptors, and they want to know how to make our lives a little easier. Let’s do the same for our students.
Tip #1: Center yourself
Sometimes, preceptors know ahead of time when they’ll be working with a student. Sometimes, it’s a surprise. Whether you know two weeks before or you find out at 6:59, try to grab a few minutes of alone time before your shift begins.
I like to lock myself in the bathroom, close my eyes, and think about how I can show up as my best self for the student out there waiting for me. Being the preceptor you want to be for a student isn’t always easy. When you allow yourself time to mentally shift into your new role, you’ll show up as a more patient, more present teacher for your student.
Tip #2: Make a plan
Before the shift starts, connect with your student about their goals for the day. I recommend making a plan for two reasons. First, this is a good instructional tool. It prompts the student to take responsibility for their learning and get in the habit of goal-setting and prioritizing before a shift.
Second, it helps you, as a preceptor, make a game plan. If you have an understanding of the student’s knowledge, skill level, and their primary focus for the day, you’ll have a better chance of effectively instructing them. If you take the time upfront to build a strategy, it will save you time on the back end because you will be able to delegate tasks and instruct them without constant check-ins and guesswork.
Tip #3: Build a relationship
To be a nursing student is to be vulnerable. They show up at clinicals with limited knowledge, knowing they’ll spend the day making mistakes, being critiqued, and possibly being bullied.
If you or anyone on your unit makes a habit of picking on student nurses, end it immediately. Bullying or ignoring students isn’t a display of status, it’s a display of immaturity. Nurses, don’t be too cool for students. You were one once. You know better.