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Why is Preparing Preceptors Related to Improving Patient Care?

The capacity to watch over and guard the well-being of others is an important gift, and one that is learned with great difficulty. For it is one thing to see the situation others are in, but it is quite another to care enough about them to want to help, and yet another to know what to do. —Judie Bopp, Director of Four Worlds Centre for Development Learning

The healthcare environment is more complex than ever. Many patients are experiencing greater numbers of coexisting health conditions. Technology is growing exponentially. Budgets are shrinking, costs are rising and regulatory policies are becoming more and more demanding.

These challenges put new hires at an increased risk for negative safety practices, errors, stress, and burnout. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), more than 40% of new graduate nurses report making medication errors and 50% said they would not recognize life-threatening complications that require intervention. The council also found average turnover rates for nurses in their first job range from 35% to 60%.

The NCSBN Transition to Practice Study identified preceptorships — a chance for new healthcare professionals to train with experienced practitioners — as a successful transition element that result in better patient outcomes, such as:

  • Fewer patient care errors and negative safety practices
  • Higher overall competence
  • Lower levels of stress
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Lower turnover


A Preceptor’s Role

A preceptor is an experienced practitioner who teaches and supervises students or less experienced practitioners. A preceptor’s role includes:

Teacher – Preceptors need to understand teaching and learning theories, how to identify learning needs and adult learning styles, barriers to learning and ways to empower and motivate learning.

Coach – Preceptors are responsible for helping preceptees use critical thinking skills to evaluate scenarios and situations to find the best solutions. They should understand ways to encourage self-discovery through skillful listening, observations and questions.

Leader/Influencer — Preceptors should know how to lead through clear and respectful communication and constructive feedback. They must have a good understanding of the values associated with their profession and should show respect for and commitment to those values in all interactions.

Facilitator –Preceptors are responsible for identifying preceptee learning needs and connecting them with opportunities to meet these needs. This may include arranging for observations in other departments, skill practice, participation in meetings or group discussions, special assignments, or structured education and training through live, online or other delivery means.

Evaluator – Preceptors should be prepared to evaluate preceptee performance. They should know how to create a safe and fair environment where goals are clearly defined and feedback is delivered in an honest and respectful manner. They should be educated on the different types of evaluation strategies, such as direct observation, rating scales and self-evaluation, along with the appropriate time and place for using them.

Socialization Agent – Preceptors are responsible for helping preceptees feel welcomed into their new environment and for making introductions to departmental staff, interdisciplinary team members, support services staff and others. They should facilitate relationship building and should serve as a preceptee’s advisor and advocate.

Role Model – Preceptors need to have a good understanding of how their words and actions shape a preceptee’s perspective of professionalism and the organization’s norms, values, rules and culture.


5 Tips for Preceptor Success

Here are 5 practical tips for a successful preceptorship for new and current preceptors:

1. Practice patience and empathy

Most preceptors have years of experience and may not easily remember the overwhelming and stressful nature of being new to a job or role. Reflecting back on your own experiences as a new hire can help restore patience and empathy for preceptees assimilating into their roles. Talk to preceptees about your own experiences. This is a great team-building exercise and helps preceptees gain confidence by knowing the emotions they are feeling are not unusual and will subside with time and experience.

2. Align preceptor and preceptee expectations

Many times, problems with the preceptor-preceptee relationship occur due to misaligned expectations. Discussing preceptee and preceptor expectations in the beginning of the relationship helps prevent misunderstandings, disappointments and false assumptions. As the preceptor, let the preceptee know your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses that you will work to improve in the process. Ask the preceptee to relay the same to you.

3. Encourage questions

Preceptees are often afraid to ask questions for fear they will be judged as incompetent or stupid. Assure them that all questions are encouraged and welcomed. Once you’ve done so, build trust by responding to all questions in a kind and respectful manner.

4. Look for opportunities to praise

Just as a problem performance requires correction, good work deserves praise. When good performance or improvement is noticed, and rewarded, it not only helps build confidence, but also becomes motivation to improve in other areas.

5. End each day or shift with reflection and feedback

Make it a routine practice to spend a few minutes together at the end of each day or shift to discuss concerns and questions. Provide feedback, and communicate any information your busy schedules may not have allowed. Try to reserve a private area where you can speak openly.


Final Thoughts

Preceptorship bridges the gap between the classroom and safe, independent practice. By successfully assessing the nurse’s learning needs and determining goals and patient care assignments, preceptors prepare new graduate nurses and nurses moving between specialties for demanding practice environments. Especially as hospitals are increasingly looking for efficient and cost-effective strategies to retain nurses and promote from within, preceptors play a major role in reducing turnover and increasing satisfaction. Effective preceptorships provide the guidance and structure needed to develop new hires to their fullest potentials, leading to better care delivery and patient experience.

How are you preparing your preceptors?

Learn more about quickly and effectively preparing new and transfer nurses to be ready to practice through adaptive learning and effective preceptor training.


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