Becoming a Preceptor to a New Nurse

You probably remember how difficult it was to make the transition from a student nurse to a novice working at the bedside, and then to evolve from a novice into an experienced RN. As healthcare grows more complex, young nurses can be overwhelmed by the skills and knowledge they must acquire and put into practice. And that’s where you can help, by becoming a preceptor to a young nurse, or perhaps to a somewhat experienced nurse who is just coming on board to a new unit or area of expertise.

A preceptor is a cross between an educational instructor and a professional mentor. It’s a one-on-one relationship, with the preceptor serving as role model, evaluator, influencer, and confidante to the apprentice nurse. Ideally, an effective preceptor will help the new nurse to connect the dots, linking nursing theory to clinical practice in a professional setting. But it’s also important for preceptors to introduce their preceptees to unit culture, organizational culture, and hospital protocols.

If you’ll be taking on the role of preceptor in the new year, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Share your story and your passion. The best way to establish a relationship quickly is to share your own experiences as a new nurse. Let the preceptee see that you were once in her shoes, with the same challenges and fears. Be authentic, give daily motivating pep talks, and communicate your enthusiasm for your profession.
  • Assess clinical competency. New nurses may be fearful of making independent decisions. As a preceptor, you should give them tasks that allow them to develop their own clinical judgment skills, while assuring them you are there as a resource and standing ready to prevent errors. Remember, the goal is to prepare them to practice independently.
  • Be an effective communicator. Find out what the new nurse would like to gain from the preceptor experience and how you can best provide support. Ask about specific concerns or fears, and stress that there are no stupid questions. Your role is to foster professional growth in a supportive manner, so…
  • Provide independent learning experiences. For learning to take place, the new nurse needs active participation, repetition, and reinforcement. Merely watching a procedure being done or shadowing an experienced nurse cannot replace hands-on experience.
  • Allow time for reflection. At the end of a shift, take time to discuss the experiences of the day. This period of reflection is critical to professional growth. You could encourage critical thinking by asking “what if” questions and contriving various potential complications or outcomes to a situation the new nurse handled that day.
  • Be patient and understanding. Remember that everyone has to start somewhere, and that means making mistakes. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you were often terrified and filled with self-doubt as a young nurse—so have compassion for a new nurse who is, no doubt, feeling the same way. Remember also that new technologies can seem overwhelming at first, and that proficiency comes with practice.
  • Have clear expectations. Lay down the rules and your expectations from the very beginning. When people know what you expect, they tend to rise to the occasion. If you would like your preceptee to be independently responsible for two patients by the end of the week, say that straight out and provide clear steps to get to that level of responsibility.
  • Inspire lifelong learning. Don’t forget that you are one of the most influential people your preceptee will work with in this early career stage. You have the power to provide a positive, reassuring, and inspiring start. On the other hand, you can become the reason a new nurse questions her career choice and abandons the profession entirely.

Becoming a preceptor is an important way in which you can further the nursing profession and inspire the next generation of nurses. It’s also an important leadership role. Education provides the foundation needed to become a confident and effective leader. American Sentinel University delivers the competitive advantages of accredited online degree programs, including an MSN in Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership and a DNP in Executive Leadership.