Becoming a preceptor is an honor for many nurses. Yes, it’s going to be more work and you probably won’t get out on time while you’re doing it, but it can be quite rewarding in many ways. Like any new challenge, you need to prepare, and the better you prepare, the easier and more successful the outcome.
Onboarding a new nurse whether a new grad or even a seasoned nurse, needs to be a positive experience to make for a well-prepared, happy new employee. You need to help her/him learn the ropes and the culture of your facility
and feel welcomed into the community with a strong understanding of the expectations and responsibilities for quality evidence-based patient care.
Take note that not all situations work out perfectly, and many times no one to blame; it just wasn’t a good match. Keep your manager informed throughout and be honest and subjective.
First think about when you were a brand-new nurse grad. Because you’ve been a successful nurse, I will venture to say you came to the position humbled, anxious and terrified. You pretty much forgot everything you learned in school for at least awhile. If you came all cocky and with an attitude, thank that nurse who precepted you and knocked you down a peg or two.
Perhaps your new nurse will be an experienced nurse, but new to your specialty or unit. S/he is likely still going to be anxious and terrified at first. You need to be prepared, confident and very patient.
Prepare Yourself for the Role
Ask your manager why you were selected, and what are the expectations, timelines, and goals for you to incorporate into the job and successfully onboard your new employee.
Find out if your education department has any evidence-based guidelines, policies or materials to help prepare and guide you through the process of being a preceptor. In an ideal situation you may have attended a train-the-trainer in-service program. Not all facilities have that capability, and you might need to train yourself from scratch. Then you might consider working with your facility to develop a program for the future.
There are many text books, articles (see Resources below) and CE courses available to help you prepare for the role of preceptor. Even if you haven’t been asked to participate, you may want to prepare yourself and let your manager know you have prepared and have an interest in helping to onboard new employees.
What can you glean from your own onboarding experiences? How can you use them to make this a positive experience for you and your new nurse? How anxious and terrified were you, and how did your preceptor put you at ease? Network with your colleagues and even on social media for tips and advice.
Don’t gossip, but do help your preceptee to learn and understand the culture of your unit, the doctors and their unique quirks and expectations, and in general how to fit in. Orient him/her to the unit and personnel procedures. Explain how holidays are assigned and weekend or on-call assignments work. What’s acceptable for calling off, and how to make requests for time off. What are the expectations for being a TEAM player. What to do if a mistake is made.
Get to Know Your Preceptee
Start by getting to know your new nurse and make note of his/her own expectations of what they want/need from you, their strengths and weaknesses, the skills they feel are strong and what they need to work on, and how they take to instruction and constructive criticism? Do they know their best learning style such as reading about it, watching or doing? Explain your teaching/coaching style and give examples of your expectations, guidelines, timelines and responsibilities. Establish an open line of communication. Remember that listening is an equal part of effective communication. Schedule a meeting at the beginning and end of each shift to discuss expectations and to review the day; what went well and what needs improvement?
Understand your role and your responsibilities in delegating and supervising an inexperienced nurse. Don’t over step those bounds, and don’t take shortcuts. Set the bar high and provide the best quality evidence-based care at all times. Remember to DO NO HARM. Understand your facility’s policies and procedures, skills checklists, and the expectations for competency and who is responsible to validate them. Clearly explain this to your new nurse so that you are both on the same page. Make it clear that if at any time it becomes necessary, you will step in and assume command of the situation for the safety and best outcome for the patient.
Make it clear that the first time through is always a demonstration. This is always the way to approach patient teaching as well. It might take 2-3 times before you or your preceptee feel comfortable in letting him/her do any part of a procedure. However, don’t let perfection paralysis cause procrastination in completing a skill.
Discuss Your Plan Away From Patients
Always discuss your plan of care away from the bedside and prior to any care. Use open ended questions and encourage the new grad to utilize critical thinking skills to think through and discuss the patient and the plan of care. Afterwards, utilize the same open-ended approach to evaluate what worked well, what might be done differently, how did the patient tolerate it? Encourage your preceptee to be a sponge and to observe and absorb everything they can. Look for, and involve them in experiences other nurses are providing to give them a variety of skill and practices.
YouTube offers so many opportunities to watch procedures and learn from other approaches. Teach your new nurse to establish the habit of doing homework to prepare for the next shift or next experience with this scenario. Learn about the diseases, the procedures, the treatments, the lab values, the test results, and how to teach the patients about their conditions and care.
Evaluate Your Progress
At the end of the timeline, evaluate your successes and failures. Provide yourself a written evaluation of what you did and what worked well and what didn’t so you can review before your next assignment.
Mastering Precepting: A Nurse’s Handbook for Success, 2012 AJN Award Recipient (Paperback) by Beth Ulrich (Author)