Starting a new job in an unfamiliar city or country is a stressful experience, especially when you’ve already chosen a career ripe with physical, mental, and emotional demands. For those nurses lucky enough to participate in a preceptorship, be sure to make the most of your opportunity. Preceptorships can last 12 weeks or less, but regardless of the amount of time, there’s plenty of information to take in and “dos” and “don’ts” to learn before you set out on your own.
A good preceptor can be a resource for life, providing valuable insight and perspective throughout your career. Plus, preceptorships don’t just benefit the preceptee. They’re valuable to hospitals as well. “Effects of a preceptorship programme on turnover rate, cost, quality and professional development,” by Tso-Ying Lee, concluded that preceptorships produced better, more prepared nurses and helped reduce hospital staff turnover and related costs.
Take steps to make the most of your preceptorship and kickstart your success in your new position.
Prepare Ahead of Time: Find out what hands-on skills are essential for your unit. Whether it be ICU, Coronary, Cardiac Care, or Trauma, review the required competencies and rank your comfort level for each. Find out what type of diagnoses you’ll be managing and review hospital protocols and professional organizational guidelines. If possible, sit with your preceptor beforehand and clarify your goals and expectations. Make an outline or a checklist you can review and update.
Ask Questions: Ask lots and lots of questions. Your preceptor doesn’t expect you to know everything. Maybe your preceptor piggybacks their IVs instead of administering them sequentially; ask open-ended and “why” questions so you understand the reasoning behind your unit’s practices instead of blindly following procedures. And challenge your preceptor if their answer doesn’t concur with what you’ve learned.
Learning Style: Do you study new material by reading it out loud? Do you learn best from hands-on experiences? Do you draw pictures to help explain new concepts? Know your learning style and communicate it with your preceptor. We all learn differently. Your preceptor won’t know how to best help you unless you tell them. If you’re unsure what your learning style is, take a test.
Be Proactive: Ask to do specific tasks you need to learn or practice. Use this time to hone your skills and build confidence in your new surroundings. Maybe it’s been a while since you performed a blood transfusion or a catheterization. Partake in everything you can, procedures, administering medications; you won’t be able to do everything but try.
Be an Asset: Being a preceptor can be taxing for an already overworked nurse. The recent McKinsey & Company survey “Assessing the lingering impact of COVID-19 on the nursing workforce” confirmed that the U.S. needs more nurses. Make your preceptor’s life easier. Bring in coffee, get a head start on vitals, perform venipuncture, or grab extra blankets for a patient, do anything you can to lessen your preceptor’s workload.
Get Feedback: Whether it’s your communication skills, assessment skills, clinical skills, or time management, ask your preceptor for feedback. You may think you’re crushing your H&Ps, but you may be missing valuable information or spending too much time. Likewise, you may think you’re struggling on your rounds, but your preceptor knows you’re exceeding expectations.
Don’t Waste Time: No one is perfect, but if you and your preceptor aren’t gelling, find a new one if possible. You should trust your preceptor and feel a connection. If you’re not learning as much as you think you should, or getting the experience you need, don’t be afraid to ask for a different preceptor for your next shift. A bad experience can undermine a preceptee’s confidence.
Your preceptorship is what you make of it. Decide what you need and what you want to accomplish, and then set about doing it. Use your voice and be your own advocate. No one can read your mind, so you must be upfront and vocal about what you expect. Also, be ready to do the grunt work and the administrative tasks. Every aspect of nursing is vital for a patient’s health, and it’s important to show you’re a team player.