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Preceptor personality types—Sound familiar?

Shutterstock | Kinga
Shutterstock | Kinga

Though this might be stating the obvious, I need to be heard: there is not a formula for the perfect preceptor—perfect preceptors do NOT exist! Granted, precepting can be a thankless job.

I know nurses who precept other nurses for free, meaning zero compensation from the hospital they work for. In fact, many preceptors do not have the choice of whether or not they will precept during any given shift and are just thrust into the job!

Think of all the talking and teaching and time and knowledge preceptors are expected to part with–all under the usual pressures of getting the job done. Yeah, so while being an orientee can kinda stink, being a preceptor can induce burn-out.

Anyway, I came up preceptor personalities that I think most new orientees encounter:

1. First off is the “Teacher.” These nurses know it all and love sharing their knowledge with orientees. They are loved by their coworkers and especially management because they will take on any orientee under any circumstances and teach the newbie the ropes. The only issue with “the teacher” is that they are often perfectionists and can snap at any moment. Watch out because it will be a crack heard around the world and the fallout can be severe.

2. The second type of preceptor is “Out-of-it.” “Out-of-it” does his job and manages to make the orinetees feel like they are in the way 99% of the time. Nothing is explained, nothing is taught, and the orientees are often on their own. The “Out-of-it” preceptor’s best feature is that the orientees learn hands-on and, yes, make mistakes. As long as the orientees don’t kill anyone, they can learn a lot by jumping in and doing everything without direction. Of course, if the orientees have any sense, they’ll ask for another preceptor!

3. Another preceptor I’ve encountered is “Hands-off.” 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.

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. So what have I learned? As a nurse on orientation, it’s important that we give our preceptors a fair chance and try to work with them.  Do you know when to confront a bad preceptor-orientee situation and/or ask for a new preceptor? Share your advice in the comments!

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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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11 Responses to Preceptor personality types—Sound familiar?

  1. I haven’t had a good preceptor like the “co-worker” type yet. The way they portray Nurse Jackie as a preceptor is my ideal…give me responsibilities, make me part of things, treat me professionally.

  2. Joanna

    I just started orientation on Oncology unit. I have 4 months of experience in a nursing home but that’s it. My preceptor is lovely as a person, but not good as a preceptor. There is also another girl being oriented, her preceptor is lovely, i wish I was with her but oh well. I am not even telling my manager about changing a preceptor because besides the one that already has an orientee, i don’t honestly see any good one at all so I am afraid I will be switched to a REALLY mean one. The problem with my preceptor is that she is very disorganized, all over the place and panicks for any reason. She makes me nervous. She doesn’t teach me anything unless I ask her questions, sometimes I have to ask few times, because she doesn’t answer. She doesn’t tell me any good words, only what i did wrong (like I need to fix something in my charting, because she thinks patient moves a little bit, not a lot, but i was told MY charting is MY judgment). I dont know what to do but i better stay quiet at least for now.

  3. Kim

    I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN RECOGNIZED BY MY PEERS AS A “CO-WORKER” PRECEPTOR. FOR OVER 10 YEARS I WAS APPROACHED BY MANAGEMENT TO HELP NEW EMPLOYEES, NEW NURSES, AND EVEN STUDENTS AS THEY BEGAN THEIR NEW JOURNEY TO NURSE. UNFORTUNATELY, I BECAME SICK WITH BP ISSUES OFF & ON AND HAD TO BE HOSPITALIZED, MISSING WORK SEVERAL TIMES THAT YEAR, AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I AM NO LONGER WORKING AS A NURSE. I WAS TERMINATED FROM MY POSITION. I WAS ONCE AWARDED THE “DAISY” AWARD FOR MY CARE. I LOVE NURSING & MISS IT VERY MUCH. I AM CRUSHED THAT THIS HAPPEN TO SOMEONE WHO WAS OTHERWISE CONSIDERED AN ASSET TO OUR PROFESSION.

  4. I have been a preceptor for a couple of times and I should say that it is also a rewarding job despite the fact that it’s an “extra” job. I had to take care of patients and at the same time take care of an orientee. In the end of the orientation course, I find that my preceptees look back at me and will be the ones who would sincerely offer help when I need some hands at work.

  5. christina

    im guilty of being the “Teacher”.

  6. Glenda

    I am currently orienting in the ED and I am so thankful for my preceptor! Since I was rather late entering the nursing profession, I am a bit older than most new grads. Therefore, my preceptor is over 20 yrs. younger than me. I had misgivings at first, but he has proven to be a true “co-worker” – always there when I need hem, but willing to give me the autonomy I need in order to work independently when I’m done with orientation. Thank God for Brian!!

  7. Luci

    I am a mix of the Teacher and co-worker. I realize that this person needs to be oriented to an enviroment and knowing the location of things and information can make a difference, but at the same time I also want to direct my orientation so I am confident that the orientee feels a little comfortable being “The Nurse”, so I slowly introduce him/her to more and more of the duties until she/he is the one responsible for the patient load with me at her/his side for support and questions. But Like the Teacher type I will breakdown if something terrible happened during my watch, I blame myself so hard that I would need a break if the mistake was life threatening.

  8. Your name

    I would definitely loose it too if my orientee made a life-threatening med error. I don’t think we should judge someone else for having a major melt down in that situation or criticize because it is a BIG DEAL…

  9. Janelle

    I am looking forward to start my training and gaining a preceptor in my new field of Hemodialysis. I just graduated from Nursing school and obtained my RN license so this is making me very nervous. I just hope I am paired with a knowledgeable and helpful preceptor. I know my experiences as a student nurse have very much jaded me from working with other nurses. I can honestly say I only had a few good mentors out of a bucket full of nurses I have worked with while being a student or during my leadership/management precetorship.

    I am keeping my fingers crossed that I get a good one! After all, what I learn will influence me as how I perform nursing for my first few years of my career!

  10. Kesha Nuss

    I am lucky to have good preceptors!! I think it makes a difference that I worked at the facility previously. I work at an LTAC where patients can change any minute like a mini ICU. I worked here as a CNA and so now I am learning the “nurse” duties. I all ready knew the environment though so just have to learn the duties of the nurse. Makes a BIG DIFFERENCE!!! :):)

  11. fireflycross

    I am a new graduate nurse and was fortunate enough to be hired as part of the “new nurse graduate” initiative in my province. Unfortunately, my preceptor was a mix between “out of it” and “teacher”. Some days would be good learning days, others would be her running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I attempted to communicate my difficulties with her, because in school we are taught to try to sort out your differences amongst yourselves before going to the unit manager. She told me what she thought her issues with me were and I did the same. We both agreed to start fresh the next shift, which went very smoothly and she told me there was improvement. I went off to nursing orientation and got pulled out halfway through to be told there were “staff complaints” about my performance and that I was being let go. All the complaints were concerns my preceptor had voiced to me a few days ago. I was in the hospital for a month and only with my preceptor for 7 shifts (she went on vacation 3 days after I started so I was bounced from one RN to the next).

    If you have concerns about your preceptor talk to someone about them! HR, unit manager, the union! Don’t sit on your hands, quietly frustrated with how things are going and hoping they get better!