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How do I deal with figuring out my preceptor?

If you’re having a difficult time communicating with your preceptor, it may help to acknowledge that while all people are individuals, there are a few core “teaching styles” that most people tend to adhere to, consciously or not. Here are four preceptor personality types that new orientees are likely to encounter.

1. First off is the “Teacher.” This nurse knows it all and loves sharing it with an orientee. S/he is loved by her coworkers and especially management because S/he will take on any orientee under any circumstances and try to teach the newbie the ropes. The only issue with “the teacher” is that s/he is often a perfectionist type (OK, all nurses are perfectionists, but s/he is extreme) and harbors some stress created by the dualism involved in teaching perfect practice while caring perfectly for patients. In other words, the teacher can snap at any moment. And watch out, because it will be a crack heard around the world, everyone will know about it, and the fallout can be severe.

Example: My “teacher” preceptor cracked so hard she had to take a week off work. She was orienting another nurse who made a med error that was life threatening and WHAM, the “teacher” lost it big time.

2. The “Out-of-it” preceptor. “Out-of-it” does his job and manages to make the orinetee feel like they are in the way 99% of the time. Nothing is explained, nothing is taught, and the orientee is often on their own. The “Out-of-it” preceptor’s best feature is that the orientee gets to learn truly by hands-on and yes, by the ever-dreaded mistake. As long as the orientee doesn’t kill anyone, s/he can learn a lot by jumping in and doing everything without direction. Of course, if the orientee has any sense, they will ask for another preceptor!

Example: My “out of it” preceptor left me alone to care for a full load of patients, and proceeded to take a 4-hour lunch break while I dealt with some seriously ill moms & babies on an antepartum unit one week into orientation! I taught myself A LOT that day!

3. The “Hands-off” preceptor: In other words, the orientee will keep her HANDS OFF the patients while this nurse is in charge, and this kind of preceptor will do EVERYTHING while not imparting one iota of knowledge.

Example: I actually had a “hands-off” during one of my first orientations and she was also a “set-up” – in other words, I wasn’t “allowed” to do anything with the patients and was there to observe only, UNLESS something went wrong, which was when I was “set-up” to take the blame. Bad combo and yet another preceptor to “trade-in,” if possible.

4. One of the best preceptor’s out there is the “Co-worker.” This person will work with their orientee, make a plan to provide good care to the patient while teaching along the way, and provide hands-on experience because they encourage the orientee to do as much as possible. If an orientee gets a “co-worker” they should count their blessings and make sure to provided a thank-you gift at the end of the whole ordeal!

The reality is that a good or bad preceptor makes or breaks orientation for a new nurse. As a nurse on orientation, it is really, really important to  (1) give your preceptor a fair chance and really try to work with them, (2) work hard from the start and try to do as much as possible while you have someone as a back-up and (3) know when to confront a bad preceptor-orientee situation and/or ask for a new preceptor.

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Amy Bozeman

Amy is many things: a blogger, a nurse, a wife, a mom, a childbirth educator. She started her journey towards a career in nursing when she got pregnant with her first child. After nursing school and studying "like she has never studied before" she entered the nursing profession eager to get her feet wet. The first years provided her with much exposure to sadness, joy and other complex human emotions. She feels that blogging is a wonderful outlet and a way for nurse bloggers to further build their community. Traditionally, midwives have handed down their skill set from midwife to apprentice midwife. She believes nurses have this same opportunity: to pass from nurse to new nurse the rich traditions of this profession.
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