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Nurse Preceptors: The Good, The Bad & How To Survive

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As any seasoned nurse will tell you there is a huge difference between reading about patient care and actually being responsible for it. There are also changes in protocol and methods when you move from one specialty to another. Preceptors are there to help nurses in new positions transition smoothly. The role they play in healthcare is critical and not nearly as easy as you may think it is.

If you have reached a point in your nursing profession where being a preceptor is the next natural step, make sure that you know what you are getting yourself into:

The Bad News About Being a Preceptor

  1. New nurses will require a lot of your time during a shift
  2. You will run out of patience from time to time
  3. Preceptors sometimes feel like they are not properly trained to take on a teaching role
  4. Not all new nurses are going to “get it” (whatever “it” may be) at the same rate
  5. Although having a new nurse at your side should mean less work for you, the opposite is typically true
  6. You are now responsible for the actions of another nurse

Being a receptor in nursing is not for everyone. You need to understand the role thoroughly and have an honest desire to shell out knowledge and skills to new nurses so that they can become great ones.

How to Survive Being a Preceptor

There are strategies and techniques that a nurse preceptor can use to help in making the role a more positive one. Here are six viable solutions to the above listed challenges that some nurse preceptors face:

  1. Being a preceptor will take up time during your shift, so make sure to allocate yourself a few “alone” breaks. It’s okay to have breakfast with your usual “coffee clutch” and encourage your new nurse to make some shift buddies of his or her own.
  2. Make sure to have readily available whatever it is that helps you keep your patience. Have an emergency stash of chocolate in your locker, take a jog before your shift, or schedule time outs away from being a preceptor. Rather than lose your cool during their tenth try at something simple, slip a caramel into your mouth and teach the technique again.
  3. Before agreeing to take on the position as a nurse preceptor you can take refresher classes for your specialty or a course in effective training if you are not completely confident with being a nurse preceptor (or even if you are).
  4. Everyone has different ways of learning, and you will need to work together to figure out what works best for your new nurse. This is a commitment, but once you make the effort you’ll be a terrific asset for nurses who are entering your field.
  5. It is extra work to be a preceptor, but if you plan right, you can ease some of the burden. Allow the new nurse to help with non-direct care essentials as well, such as filling in charts, cleaning the station, and stocking supplies. By cutting your time in these areas, you will be able to make up those extra minutes you spend at bedsides demonstrating procedures.
  6. Surviving accountability for someone else’s actions will be easier if you don’t give too much responsibility too soon. Stay on top of your new nurses, especially when they are close to patients, to avoid major mistakes from being made. You won’t be able to stop all of them, but if you are chastised for an error made by your new nurse, take it as a learning experience in how to teach them more effectively.

The Good News About Being a Preceptor

Moving to a nurse preceptor is not all bad. There are points in the position that are going to make it well worth your while:

  • You are molding new nurses to practice using the same methods that you use.
  • Nurses just out of nursing school are full of the latest information regarding nursing practices. You could benefit from their new knowledge as they benefit from your seasoned skills.
  • Standing out as a trusted preceptor gets you noticed by your superiors and can help you advance in your own career quickly.
  • Making a difference in nursing styles is very rewarding. You will feel a strong sense of accomplishment when you see a nurse that you trained being commended for their work.

The Most Important Point to Remember as a Nurse Preceptor

A nurse who has just graduated from nursing school is like a sponge, absorbing everything that they see you doing and saying. Stay positive when working with them, watch how you talk to and about patients and co-workers, and be careful not to cut any corners. Your bad habits are also easy to emulate, so ensure that new nurses are only being exposed to your good ones.

Nurse preceptors in all fields have an incredible opportunity to shape the future of nursing and the perception of nurses in general. If you have been chosen to take on this role, don’t take it lightly. Make the most of your time with the new nurse to put them on the right path towards excellence, and you will find that your own position in your field is better respected.

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