Nursing can be a stressful career. Fortunately, many new nurses have a nurse preceptor to help orient them to their new surroundings and make the transition much smoother. Nurses who take on this mentorship/trainer capacity are called nurse preceptors. If helping other nurses be and do their best sounds appealing to you, taking on the additional role of nurse preceptor could be ideal for you. However, there’s a lot to learn before you take on your responsibilities.
What Is a Preceptor in Nursing?
A nurse preceptor is more than a mentor. While mentoring implies an ongoing relationship, a nurse preceptor’s role is temporary in the life of the person they’re helping orient. In this position, it’s your responsibility to act as the link between new nurses and your department. You’ll help them better understand factors such as standard levels of care, policies, and procedures. You may orient them to patients and other members of your medical staff, making it easier for them to make successful transitions.
As a nurse preceptor, you’ll wear many hats: teacher, trainer, liaison, nurse, confidante, evaluator, and sounding board. You’ll help new, inexperienced, or student nurses onboard and acclimate to their new surroundings. In a perfect world, you’ll be their greatest asset and the reason they avoid burnout and unbearable levels of stress.
If it sounds like the role of a nurse preceptor is valued and important, it is. You, more than anyone else in your department, have the power to help the newest members of your staff become successful, confident nursing professionals. It takes a kind, caring, and knowledgeable person to be successful in the role of nurse preceptor, and not everyone is well suited to this position. If you are one of the chosen few, however, your days will be more fulfilling and rewarding than you might imagine.
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Tips for Succeeding in the Role of Nurse Preceptor
Some traits make you naturally better suited to adding a precept role to your nursing career. Fortunately, most of them are easily cultivated through practice and dedication. Consider the following advice to help you succeed as a nurse preceptor:
1. Understand the Role You Play
Nurse preceptors have a responsibility to help new nurses, transfer nurses, and students become confident in their ability to make decisions and provide necessary care. Because there’s a sizeable gap between what’s taught in nursing school (the theoretical) and what actually happens in a clinical setting (the practical), it’s the preceptor’s responsibility to fill the void by instructing, reassuring, and modeling competency of care.
2. Motivate Others
Not everyone is able to motivate and inspire other individuals. To be successful as a preceptor in nursing, part of your job will be helping others become the best they can be. You must stay positive and offer feedback in a way that is both professional and constructive, and a gift for talking to people without coming off as condescending will be useful. If you master these skills, you’ll be well on your way to success.
3. Communicate Clearly
Nurse preceptors must be able to answer questions succinctly, give orders in a polite but firm way, delegate responsibly, and allow student nurses to make mistakes so they can learn from them. Good communication skills are a must. If you find it easy to talk to complete strangers, this may be a good role for you to take on.
4. Remain Objective
Your role is to assist and help train new medical professionals. This means you must not take it personally when they fail. Everyone has good days and bad, strengths, and weaknesses. You must remain level-headed and objective when you’re at work, regardless of how others are behaving.
5. Be Open to Constructive Feedback
No one is perfect, not even the nurse preceptor. Your new nurses won’t be the only ones who make mistakes. You will make them occasionally, too. When that inevitably happens, you must be able to accept feedback and criticism constructively and be able to admit you were wrong. The nurses to whom you are responsible will look to you as a role model, so it is important to model the behavior you want to see in your nursing team.
6. Build Mutually Beneficial Relationships
Your nurses will need more than just someone to order them around and criticize them when they’re wrong. They’ll need someone to lift them up when they feel down and listen when they need to vent. Relationship building is all about give-and-take. Yes, you must be able to stop nurses from making wrong decisions, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. Improving your relationship skills will make you a better leader.
7. Offer FeedbackAND Praise
When a new nurse makes a wrong decision, it is your responsibility to say so. But it is also your responsibility to congratulate them when they exceed expectations. Feedback goes hand-in-hand with praise. This makes for a friendly work environment to which new nurses are eager to return every day.
8. Be Personable
Everybody needs a friend, especially one who is willing to share her wisdom and experience. It can be lonely when you are the new staff member. This can be especially true in a hospital or medical setting. When everyone is stressed, overworked, and inconvenienced, finding someone who is sympathetic to your plight can be difficult. Therefore, you must remain friendly and approachable if you want to retain the newly trained nursing staff and sculpt them into seasoned professionals.
9. Set Clear Expectations
Every emergency room or critical care department has standard levels of care, and it is vital your new nurses learn them right away. The best way to accomplish this is by setting expectations that surpass your current care standards and by letting your charges know anything less is unacceptable. Clear expectations make it easier for new employees to set goals and to understand exactly what their jobs require from them daily.
10. Encourage a Healthy Work/Life Balance
Most people don’t want to give their whole lives over to their jobs. Your new nurses will have spouses, life partners, children, and parents with whom they want to spend most of their time. They’ll also have hobbies and interests outside the workplace. Whenever possible, encourage these outside interests and make sure your fellow nurses are getting sufficient time off to be with the people they love, doing the things they love. Anything less leads to low morale and a less-than-ideal turnover rate among your new hires.
Becoming a nurse preceptor is about more than just getting a degree and gaining work experience. It’s also about leading, coaching, and inspiring others. People skills are important. Make sure yours are up to the challenge if you want to become a good preceptor in nursing.
How to Become a Nurse Preceptor
You enjoy being a mentor and an evaluator. You like giving feedback and think you could make an impact on new nurses. Adding nurse preceptor to your current nursing duties may be a good choice for you, but where do you begin? Becoming a nurse preceptor requires a foundational background in nursing. This means you will need not only a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but also a master’s degree and at least a year of work experience in a clinical setting.
The American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Post University can help you earn your degree through our Master of Science in Nursing program. We offer several specializations to help you achieve your goal, including our pathway to Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership, which is the most direct route to enjoying the role of a nurse preceptor. Contact us today to learn more about admission.
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