Becoming a Preceptor

Written by Emma Doherty, RN

Sometimes there’s a full circle moment in nursing. For me, it was after a year and a few months after finishing new-grad residency, and I was asked to begin taking courses to become a preceptor. My initial reaction was, “Am I qualified to do this?”. In short, the answer for nearly everyone will always be yes and no.

On one hand, I am still considered a “newer” nurse in this department. On the other hand, I completed the same residency that new grads will be taking. I can offer specific insight to the new grads from a more relatable aspect after recently finishing it myself.

The Importance of a Good Preceptor

I took preceptor classes to learn more about the preceptor role and preceptee relationship. It consisted of several online modules and two webinars. Taking these classes offered an insight into auditing my own skills and knowledge. One of the most crucial things a preceptor should be self-aware of is knowing when to say, “I’m not sure, but let’s find out together.” Not only does this help foster a continued learning relationship between you and your preceptee, but it also helps build trust. We’re only human and sometimes we are unsure or forget! It is far better to double-check than to proceed blindly. The last thing you want is to teach your orientee the wrong way to approach the unknown.

Another key point brought up within the preceptor classes was knowing your teaching style versus knowing your preceptee’s learning style. Are they hands on? Do they need written directions? Personally, I am a hands-on learner. Once aware of this, and learning my preceptee is an auditory learner, I know I need to approach things differently than I would want to learn. Instead of jumping in and doing a procedure, we could take time before starting a task to discuss step-by-step how to complete it.

Key Roles of the Preceptor

Other key roles of the preceptor include being their protector. In a sense intervening before any potentially unsafe things occur. Not only will this help protect the preceptee, but it also protects patient safety.

Lastly, the preceptor also serves as a socializer for the preceptee during their orientation to the unit. The preceptor is responsible for helping the preceptee get acquainted with the unit staff. They also teach their orientee about the unit layout and interdisciplinary relationships. This role is very important in making the preceptee feel welcome and important to the healthcare team. By introducing them to other staff and patients, rather than having them fly under the radar, allows new nurses to build rapport with others.

We think of the preceptor role as a “teacher” or guide into the nursing role. In some aspects it is, but it is so much more than that. I think so highly of my preceptors in the nursing jobs I have had and hope to pass along that welcoming feel and a great learning experience to other new grads in the near future!


Do you have any favorite preceptor/preceptee moments? Share them in the comments below!

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