What Is a Nurse Preceptor? (And How to Become One)

Updated February 3, 2023

If you want to advance your career as a nurse, you can consider becoming a preceptor in nursing. These nurses are mentors to new nurses, teaching them about the industry and their position. Learning more about preceptors and discovering how to become one can help you decide whether it's a role you want to pursue. In this article, we explain what a nurse preceptor is, tell you how to become one, and discuss goals preceptors and nurses can set.

What is a nurse preceptor?

A nurse preceptor is an experienced nurse who guides the journey of a student nurse, graduate nurse, or any new employee joining the workplace. While the preceptor retains ultimate responsibility for patient care, they educate new nurses on clinical methods and techniques to encourage independence and correct procedures. Here are some of a preceptor's main responsibilities when working with nurses:

  • providing support and resources during the transition into the workforce

  • creating a safe workplace conducive to staff learning

  • facilitating nurse growth in the clinical environment

  • evaluating the proficiency level of students in clinical settings

  • supervising the student's nursing care and ensuring safe practices

  • communicating with the clinical instructor to discuss the student's performance

Related: Nurse Practitioner vs. Registered Nurse: Important Distinctions

How do you become a nurse preceptor?

Nurse preceptors are typically nurses with extensive industry experience who are seeking advancement opportunities within their health care institution or externally. Many hospitals and clinics offer a preceptor education program that helps train existing nurses for the role. Current nurses may complete this training program during working hours for a few months so that they're prepared for a promotion to a preceptor position.

You can also seek preceptor training on your own, as it's available online and at many universities. For example, the Canadian Nurse Educator Institute offers a three-month preceptor training program that students with a minimum of three years of experience as a staff nurse can complete for certification. While this doesn't guarantee you a preceptor position, it can help strengthen your job application to impress prospective employers when you're applying for the role.

What are nursing preceptor goals?

Nursing preceptor goals are targets set for novice nurses who work with a preceptor during the beginning of their first health care jobs. These objectives help the nurses better integrate into the workplace while developing essential skills for the role. Nurse preceptors often use the SMART goal framework while setting goals. Each goal set with the SMART system is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Using frameworks like this helps create meaningful and relevant goals for the individual nurse and the health care setting. Here are some goals a student nurse and a preceptor can set together:

Enhance communication with other personnel

Nurses work closely with other nurses, physicians, and patients. Having strong communication skills can help them do this effectively, as it allows nurses to convey vital information and answer critical questions. Preceptors can help nurses develop their communication skills to improve collaboration and confidence in a number of ways, such as modelling a good relationship with other nurses, providing a comfortable atmosphere to interact, offering constructive feedback, or sharing past nursing experiences.

Related: How to Improve Communication Skills

Strengthen organizational skills

Nurses work with multiple patients a day, so it's important for them to stay organized. This helps them learn more about their patients, keep detailed files, and implement unique treatment plans. Being organized can also help nurses manage their time effectively to minimize the time patients are waiting. Preceptors may help nurses improve their organizational skills by progressively adding patients to the nurses' workload until they can carry a full load. They can also conduct regular time management exercises with nurses and promote the use of organizational worksheets and reports during shifts.

Related: What Are Organizational Goals? (And Why They Are Important)

Increase psychomotor ability

Psychomotor abilities are capabilities that enable accurate or quick reactions and require hand-eye coordination. Nursing activities that require psychomotor ability include the injection of medication through intravenous drip or the operation of medical machines. For nurses to develop these skills, they practise until they require little to no supervision. The preceptor can promote this ability through the following tasks:

  • instructing them on all the hospital policies and procedures

  • helping the nurses review the rationale and reasoning behind treatments

  • progressively reducing the amount of supervision during patient procedures

  • assisting the nurses in performing any unfamiliar procedures

  • reviewing the nurses' complete skills checklist

Related: How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse? (A Guide)

Increase medical knowledge

Knowledge of medical conditions, their diagnosis, and the appropriate medication are critical for nurses to provide good care. A successful preceptorship often helps nurses develop a base of medical knowledge to apply in a wide variety of situations. A preceptor can encourage medical expertise by acting as a surrogate for the nurses as they practise how to teach their patients or quiz them on the side effects of drugs. Preceptors can also help the nurse create a list of commonly prescribed medications and their dosages.

Related: What Is Medical Terminology? (With Examples and Definitions)

Strengthen critical thinking skills

Nurses are often responsible for independent problem solving, as there may be times when a doctor or preceptor nurse isn't available. Preceptors can help new nurses develop this skill to make informed decisions that benefit the patients. Critical thinking is also an important skill to have for day-to-day nurse responsibilities, such as assessing patients' symptoms and determining their conditions.

Preceptors may help nurses strengthen their critical thinking skills by asking them questions about patients they're visiting on their rounds and inviting them to ask questions about topics they don't fully understand. In some cases, preceptors may encourage nurses to pursue additional certification to improve their knowledge.

Related: Why Critical Thinking Is Important at Work

Develop leadership skills

Although nurses aren't in a leadership position, it's still important for them to have strong leadership skills. These skills can help them work with other nurses and physicians more effectively and, when necessary, allow them to delegate tasks. Nurses can also use their leadership skills to encourage patients to follow the doctor's treatment plans. Leadership skills can be developed by monitoring the nurses' performance and only offering guidance when necessary. Preceptors may also delegate leadership tasks to nurses to improve their confidence.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Enhance assertiveness skills

Being assertive helps nurses negotiate with difficult patients, ensuring they receive the necessary treatment. This trait allows nurses to be self-assured and confident, which can also help them form stronger professional relationships with their colleagues. Preceptors can help nurses become more assertive by modelling communication techniques to use with patients and physicians or presenting difficult cases and asking the nurse to describe how they might handle the situation.

Related: A Guide on How to Be More Assertive at Work (With Tips)

Provide quality patient education

Patient teaching is the process of educating a patient on their diagnosis, treatment, medication, and potential side effects. The nurse begins by identifying the patient's learning needs, then developing and implementing a teaching plan. The preceptor can help with this process by providing the nurses with a variety of teaching and reading resources to identify and address the needs of individual patients. Preceptors may also discuss different teaching methods nurses can use so that they can choose the most appropriate method for each patient.

Related: What Is Patient-Centred Care? (With Elements and Benefits)

Participate in organized learning experiences

To stay up-to-date with industry trends and advancements, nurses may continue their education throughout their careers. They may complete external workshops or seminars, but some medical institutions even offer this training to their nurses. Typically, a preceptor leads the course to help nurses improve their clinical proficiency and professionalism and follow unit norms. At the end of the course, a preceptor may give nurses a grade or constructive feedback on ways they can continue to grow.

Related: Learning Theory: Definition and Types of Learning Theories

Be a role model of nursing values

Preceptors are role models for new nurses. They teach nurses about the medical institution and health care industry and how to be successful within it. Nurses may mimic your actions and behaviour as a preceptor, so it's important that you always remain professional. You can be a good role model by acting in the same way that you expect nurses to act. For example, if you want your team of nurses to be professional with patients, it's important that you do the same. A preceptor nurse can be a good role model by working well with colleagues, arriving on time to work, or following the medical institution's policies.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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