The Importance of Nursing Preceptors

Healthcare is feeling “the great resignation” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this transition to rebuild the nursing workforce, it is vital to have a robust and well-structured plan for nursing education. Critical to this initiative are strong formal and informal nursing preceptors. As nursing education specialists, preceptors are vital in helping nursing students or professionals onboard in a new role or expand their practice.

What Is a Preceptor?

Preceptors oversee and guide preceptees (learners) in a workplace and act as a bridge between the classroom and clinical space. Learners may be student nurses at all levels, new nurse graduates, nurse residents, new hires, traveling nurses or float pool/PRN nurses. “Without a preceptor’s experience, knowledge and commitment, clinical education may not exist. Having preceptors enables students and new staff to be exposed to practical clinical experience, which in turn directly enhances their development of confidence and competence,” notes registered nurse Jennifer Hally.

Since preceptors have experience within an organization, they know how to navigate the system and the electronic medical record. The amount of preceptor time depends on the learner’s experience, patient care needs and the type of program. For traveling nurses, preceptor time may be just a few shifts, but for nursing students, it could be their entire semester. Some nurse residents in specialty areas like oncology have the same preceptor for a year. Regardless of the learner and length of time, preceptors help teach, guide, direct and support other nurses.

What Are the Characteristics of a Good Preceptor?

Nurse preceptors are clinically competent role models, educators, encouragers and leaders that use evidence-based practices, promote critical thinking and possess excellent communication skills imperative for reinforcement and improvement. Newer nurses often benefit from preceptors modeling effective communication using proven models such as SBAR that improve safety and patient outcomes.

A good preceptor finds teaching moments within the care environment. Through constant evaluation and ongoing feedback, they help the learner grow and develop. Over time, the preceptor provides less guidance and supervision.

What Are the Challenges in Pairing a Preceptor With a Student?

Preceptors act as coaches or mentors to learners. Finding the right pairing is often the most significant challenge for any good relationship. Nursing faculty, managers and clinical nurse educators can collaborate to locate the right fit. If there is a pool of preceptors, they may discuss personalities or communication styles. With the right pair, both the preceptor and the learner often grow. In addition, an eager learner can infuse a patient care area with renewed enthusiasm and passion for nursing. As they become more independent, they may help fill a staffing need.

What Is a Nurse Residency Program?

Because of the high number of nurses needing onboarding, many organizations are developing nurse residency programs with preceptors. The definition, structure, content and length of programs vary widely, with internships ranging from two weeks to two years. Their goal is to help fill in the gap in education from skills labs or clinical to more real-world experiences. In addition, they aim to enhance the clinical orientation for a successful transition to professional nursing practice.

HCA Healthcare is the largest for-profit healthcare system in the United States. They offer a robust new graduate nurse residency program with state-of-the-art simulation and virtual reality training, case study discussions and ongoing educational seminars. In addition, residents receive emotional support from their preceptors throughout that first year. Finally, a capstone-type project helps nurse residents with their professional growth.

Overall, nurse residencies hope to retain nurses for many years by providing a great start. For instance, at the 2022 Oncology Nursing Society Congress, Lyndsey Conway, MN, RN, BMTCN from Seattle Cancer Alliance shared that their nurse residency retention outcomes were 98% retention at one year, 93% at two years and 87% retention at five years. For comparison, the national average for staff nurse turnover in 2021 was 73%. This rate is likely much higher in a demanding oncology specialty.

Having the support of a preceptor is critical to a nursing student or nurse’s confidence, competence and communication. Preceptors help bridge the gap between theory and clinical practice and support adapting to a new work environment. Residency programs help formalize the preceptor-preceptee roles to improve job satisfaction and retain qualified nurses.

William Paterson University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Nursing Education program can help prepare you to support the next generation of nurses.

Learn more about William Paterson University’s online MSN – Nursing Education program.

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