What is a Nurse Preceptor?

Nurses play a critical role in patient care, so when a new nurse comes to a healthcare facility, it is extremely important for the new nurse to be ‘shown the ropes’. That is where a nurse preceptor comes into play.

The duty of a nurse preceptor in a healthcare facility is to provide important mentoring, teaching and learning experiences for new or experienced nurses who are new to a particular department or health care facility. As a preceptor, you may be working with a nurse that is fresh out of college, or a nurse with 25 years of experience but is new at that unit.

Even with a nurse that has years of work experience, different units and facilities have different work plans and different patient reporting software, so it is vital that a new nurse whatever here experience level work with a nurse preceptor.

Understanding the Nurse Preceptor Role

The role of a nurse preceptor is set up by the particular health care facility in which you work. The job is usually assigned to more experienced nurses. Each healthcare facility has different protocols, skill checklists and teaching software and tools, so all new nurses must go through similar initial training. The preceptor experience allows the new and experienced nurses at the facility to get to know each other and learn how to work together most effectively.

You should know that if you are a preceptor, it is much more important than being a mere teacher or mentor. The nurse preceptor provides the new nurse with a vast toolbox of nursing resources so that they have the ability to tackle any job. They also provide guidance to the new nurse so that they can fit into the culture of the organization.

Below are more of the essential duties of a nurse preceptor that you should become familiar with if you are tasked with this critical role.

#1. Setting Goals and Responsibilities

If you have been assigned to be a nurse preceptor in your department, goal setting is always an important part of the first meeting with a new nurse. You should sit down with the nurse and ask these questions:

  • What do you want to learn from our relationship in the next month?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses as a nurse?
  • What are some of the most important skills that you want to hone during your orientation?
  • What fears or concerns do you have in your new nursing role?
  • How can I help you to get through your orientation more smoothly?

As a preceptor, you will need to provide the nurse with very clear expectations of what her responsibilities are. For instance, if the nurse if going to have to handle three patients in the first week, then you will need to make clear that she will be handling those patients on her own, but that you will be available to answer questions.

Next, be certain that you set clear responsibilities and tasks for every work day, and check in each day to make sure that things are being done. At the end of every day, you should comment to the nurse about how she did in completing her jobs. Also provide strong directions on how to reach the same goals every day for the rest of the orientation.

#2. Establish a Good Relationship

It is important for the new nurse to feel at ease with you. One of the ways you can accomplish this is to share experiences of your own when you were a new nurse. You might share some of your first reactions to the facility, staff and your clinical role. You should try to emphasize that you were in her shoes at one point. By making her feel that you are on her side, it can improve your relationship and ensure that you have the best opportunity to teach her what she needs to know.

Next, set strong and clear expectations for nurses under your charge. You should provide them with deadlines for every goal you set. If the nurse will be taking on more patients on her own next week, you should make this very clear on the first day. You have to be a teacher and a resource for the nurse but you also must be there to correct mistakes.

New nurses may find it challenging to make decisions. A a nurse preceptor, you must assess how competent they are clinically and challenge them to develop their own clinical judgement skills.

#3. Communicate Effectively

Your new nurse needs to know that you are a good resource who is ready to answer questions as needed. You also should be available to clarify any procedures that are used and to help them to understand why tasks are being done in a certain way. When it comes to patient care, there are not any dumb questions. A preceptor must be able to foster skill growth in a collaborative and supportive environment where the new nurse will feel at ease in asking questions.

#4. Giving Structured Learning Experiences

Being a good nurse preceptor does not come naturally and you have to be trained to do it well. There are many nursing schools near you and organizations where you can take workshops so that you can learn these essential nursing teaching skills. Some colleges and hospitals may offer seminars on how to establish nursing learning experiences that are effective for nurse preceptors. Education for nurse preceptors will usually focus on clinical competency, norms of the nursing unit, and nursing professionalism.

#5. Offer Feedback

Communication is very important in the nurse preceptor relationship. As a nurse preceptor, it is important for you to remain positive as much as you can. You should be encouraging and supportive of the things that the nurse does well, but you also need to remember that you may need to provide negative feedback sometimes. You should not shy away from providing constructive, negative feedback, but be sure to do it in a respectful and encouraging way.

Also, remember to be a good listener to what your nurse charge says to you. You are actually learning in this process as well. When you are done with your preceptor experience, you always should seek feedback on yourself and to see how you can do it better the next time.