When you start at any career or position, there is going to be the time before your employer will just turn you loose, for nursing students especially, that time can be fraught with anxiety and anticipation of the worst. Fear not, the good news is that the person who will be overseeing your activities and evaluating what you learned throughout your years in nursing school has once been in your shoes. Like envisioning someone in their underwear to get past the nerves, some mental tools will help you to survive your externship with a preceptor.
A preceptor isn’t there to judge you
If you look at your externship as a time to practice all the things that you learned in your education instead of an interview, per se, then you will get a lot more out of the time you spend. Try to put your nerves by the wayside and use the time with a more experienced nurse to ask the questions that arise while trailing them.
If you spend your time trying not to make a mistake, you run the risk of being too cautious and never sharpening your skills. It is in our mistakes that we learn, not through our successes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, try things that you may not be comfortable with, or to admit when you don’t fully understand something. A preceptor is not there to judge you as much as to help you sufficiently stand on your own two feet.
You are supposed to feel overwhelmed
There isn’t a nurse alive who hasn’t gone through the “externship with preceptor phase” of their career and not felt overwhelmed at times. It is a phase in your career when you realize that all you learned in school was theoretical and non emotional. Sometimes the hardest part of a nurse’s job is not having the knowledge they need, but being equipped with the emotional strength that comes with experience.
When being pulled in twenty different directions, dealing with people who are worried, upset, and in pain, and feeling insecure about the proficiency at your job, are all conditions which are likely to happen at once and push you over the edge.
During those situations, try to take a breath and lean on the preceptor. That is exactly why they are there, to step in and help. A hospital is not a one-man band, but a team. Part of working with a preceptor is learning how to rely on others and to be professional enough to say when you can’t do it alone and need someone else’s help for the good of the patient.
You are going to make mistakes
If you make a mistake don’t try to skirt it under the rug or hide it. Found in the mistakes are the best opportunities for growth and knowledge. There are going to be situations when something happens to make you feel stupid, or like a freshman. You are a freshman, so take ownership of it, and try to make it into a positive.
Even preceptors make mistakes; it is human. What makes the best medical professionals are the ones who can admit to their misgivings, strive to make the situation right, and take from the experience so as not to repeat it. Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go 100% right.
Your preceptor has been chosen for what they can teach you
Not everyone is going to get along with their preceptor, but that can sometimes be the greatest lesson of all. Preceptors are chosen to do what they do because they possess what it takes to show you the ropes. Sometimes different personalities just don’t meld. The key is not to be best friends, but to learn from each other.
The truth is that you are not the only one learning. In a hospital atmosphere, team members learn from each other. You are a part of the teaching and learning process too. It isn’t a popularity contest; you aren’t trying to get a preceptor to like you, you are attempting to gain the most knowledge and experience possible.
Listen closely to what is being taught without presuming any intention behind what is being said. If you stay neutral, don’t become offensive, and take all that you can from it, it can be one of the best experiences in your nursing career. A step to your dreams, make the best of it, get through it, and you will come out being the professional that will do the amazing things that you set out. It will go by quicker than you think and then it will be time for you to show what you have learned and that you are ready to hit the ground running.