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The role of the nurse preceptor? Responsibility, Preparation, and Personalities
Let me introduce myself. My name is Melissa, though most people at work know me as “Stafford,” a nickname that was given to me because we had 4 Melissa’s in our unit at one point.  Can you imagine that? I graduated nursing school back in 2000, though that seems like last year to me. After spending a year and a half on a surgical floor, I have spent the rest of my time in neuro critical care. I am not an expert, but I’ve functioned as a nurse preceptor over the years, from student nurses all the way up to experienced nurses.

You are probably prepared for what to expect during your orientation, whether it be from discussions during nursing school, friends, or from personal research on the web (In case you don’t know, this very website is filled with wonderful information and links to other resources for orientation).

The role of the nurse preceptor? Responsibility, Preparation, and Personalities

I want to talk to you about orientation a little differently. I want to share with you orientation from my point-of-view, as a nurse preceptor. It is important to me that you understand…

Yes, I am a nurse preceptor… but I struggle too. Let me share with you some of the reasons why.

1. Responsibility

Being a preceptor, in my opinion, is a huge responsibility. It’s similar to a teacher/student relationship, especially in the beginning of orientation. Your success as a new nurse in my unit, in large part, depends on my ability to be an effective teacher. If I don’t do my job well, how can I expect you to be successfully independent after orientation? This is a responsibility that I take seriously, which means… just by agreeing to be a preceptor, I take on additional stress. Yet, despite the stress, it is something that I greatly enjoy doing.

2. Preparation

Hopefully the leader of the unit has done some planning. In an ideal world, they have:

  • Chosen a nurse preceptor, in advance, of your first day
  • Chosen the best preceptor based on your prior experience
  • Given the preceptor some background information on your prior experience (or lack thereof) so he/she can anticipate where and how to start.

The reality, though, is that I may not get much information, such as any prior experience outside traditional clinical rotations. And, in some cases, like if your “regular” preceptor unexpectedly calls out sick, I may not get any notice at all.

3. Personalities/Learning Styles

While I look forward to getting to know you personally over time, my focus in the beginning is understanding you as a new nurse.

  • What kind of background do you have? Meaning…
  • New graduate: Someone fresh out of school. Something I keep in mind is that experience varies greatly between programs.
  • Did you get a wide variety of hands-on experiences during clinical rotations or some type of ‘internship’, or
  • Were you restricted either by school or hospital policies on what you could even attempt?
  • Were you a CNA, or is your experience limited to the controlled environment of the program?
  • Transitional nurse: In my case, this is a nurse that has worked in some other department and is now new to neuro/critical care.
  • Did you work on a med/surg floor with experience related to my unit. Or,
  • Did you work in an unrelated area of practice, but are excited to try something new.
  • Experienced nurse: Slightly different than transitional, in that I consider this to be a nurse who has experience working in critical care.
  • Are you new to the neuro speciality? Or,
  • Do you have experience in neuro critical care, but are new to my facility?

Regardless of your prior experience, other important considerations for me are:

  • Do you learn best by first reading, seeing, or doing things hands-on? Does it depend on the specific scenario?
  • Are you a direct person who is going to tell me what is or is not working?
  • Are you more introverted, so I need to observe your non-verbal cues more closely?

It’s important for you to understand there isn’t a ‘wrong’ response to any of these points. I need to understand what types of experiences you’ve had (or not had) in the past, as this will help me plan our path during orientation. Knowing the starting point is how we build effectively on your existing foundation as a nurse.

It’s also important for you know about me. More specifically, my style as a nurse preceptor. For example, I am often perceived as intimidating, as I take a pretty business-like approach to orientation. For this reason, I take the time at the beginning of orientation to talk about the things I do in an attempt to avoid being intimidating. I assure you that I am always open to questions and encourage you to give me feedback if you become overwhelmed. My intent is to set the stage for an open, two-way dialogue at the beginning, as this is essential to a successful orientation.

However, regardless what information I get at the beginning of orientation, I feel it is my responsibility to adapt and adjust both the assignments and my teaching style based on my ongoing observations. I hope that you will give me direct feedback, but even if you don’t.. I’m always looking for signs of success as well as signs of struggle.

Sometimes I am better at this than others….

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