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Give Preceptors the Proper Tools and Training to Ensure They Succeed

A preceptorship is a challenging role even for the experienced staff nurse. It is important to keep in mind that precepting requires a different set of skills that may or may not automatically be possessed by the preceptor. In addition to being proficient at patient care, an effective preceptor must also become a teacher, organizer, colleague, and friend. Like preceptees, the preceptor requires proper instruction and tools to be successful. This includes ongoing training and guidance in the form of coursework, mentoring, and partnerships/learning activities with other preceptors.

In a study on the role of nurse preceptors—770 preceptors were surveyed—researchers concluded “preceptors were often caught in challenging situations, experiencing high levels of inner turmoil before asking for assistance or making a judgment call on student performance” (Paton & Binding, 2009). Ultimately, the authors found that preceptors need “support, clarity, and understanding of their new role, which was distinct from their role as a clinical expert” (Paton & Binding, 2009). Another study of 131 nurse preceptors taking part in a hospital preceptor education workshop revealed that after three to six months participants experienced greater confidence and comfort in their roles and even provided increased quality in their coaching of critical thinking skills to their preceptees (Sandau, Cheng, Pan, Gaillard, & Hammer, 2011).

Training programs should prepare preceptors to take on three overarching roles

Staff nurse role model. Preceptors must be strong communicators and be taught the importance of consistently communicating their organizational methods and reasoning to preceptees. They will be tasked with teaching and modeling correct patient care standards; how to fulfill job duties; how to effectively use resources and equipment; and how to integrate with the team. In this role, successful preceptors provide regular check-ins. (AACN, 2013)

Socializer. Preceptor training should prepare the preceptor to shift from independent duties to having a partner at his/her side who will need to learn the culture of the hospital. The preceptor is responsible for introducing preceptees to other staff members, creating social experiences with them, and showing them how to function in the hospital. This means spending both social and professional time with the preceptee, being empathetic to their struggles, listening to his/her questions, and finding ways to boost his/her self-confidence.

Educator. The educator is the most important and involved role for the preceptor. Preceptor training should walk the preceptor through assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating a preceptee’s job performance. The following is a breakdown of each of the educator’s sub roles.

  • Assessor: As an assessor the preceptor must learn techniques for determining the preceptee’s current performance levels and learning needs and must know how to create a list of expected outcomes based on the job description and unit procedures. They must also learn how to create an assessment strategy. As part of this role, the preceptor will encourage continuous dialog and listen actively to understand the preceptee’s needs.
  • Planner: The planning role involves identifying a timeline, preceptee’s learning preferences, and the correct instructional methods. With feedback from the preceptee, the preceptor develops a personalized approach to the learning program and creates a learning contract. The preceptor must understand the various teaching and learning methods in order to create the right program.
  • Implementer: The implementer teaches necessary job and team building skills. While wearing this hat, the preceptor must help the preceptee become an active learner by asking questions and testing them often. Good communication and active listening skills are required.
  • Evaluator: The preceptor appraises and documents preceptee performance, providing effective and constructive feedback. The preceptor must be trained to implement different evaluation methods.

References

AACN. (2013). AACN: The preceptor challenge: The AACN Preceptor Development Program.

Paton, B., & Binding, L. (2009). Keeping the center of nursing alive: A framework for preceptor discernment and accountability. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, (40)3, 115-120.

Sandau, K., Cheng, L., Pan, Z., Gaillard, P., & Hammer, L. (2011). Effect of a preceptor education workshop: Part 1. Quantitative results of a hospital-wide study. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, (42)3, 117-126.

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