How to NOT Suck as a Nurse Preceptor: (10 Steps)

a nurse preceptor talking to new nurse

Becoming a nurse preceptor may seem like a fun way to get into a more authoritative role on your unit.

However, if you do not approach this role with humility and a desire to learn, you may find that you quickly become the dreaded preceptor on your floor.

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How to Not Suck As a Nurse Preceptor

Although many nurse preceptors have gotten a bad rap for being unhelpful, cranky and judgmental, you can choose to be different.

You can choose to take this role seriously to create amazing learning experiences for both new graduates and more experienced nurses who are new to your unit.

The best way to not suck in this role is to be open, communicative and responsive.

Find Your Next Nursing Job

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What You Need to Be the Most Awesome Nurse Preceptor Possible

You do not have to fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be grumpy, irritable and overworked to be a nurse preceptor.

In fact, while precepting a new nurse is certainly not a challenge to be taken lightly, it can easily be a highly fulfilling role that helps you make a difference in the next generation of nurses and in the health of the patients on your unit.

Before you continue reading, make sure that you have the following qualifications for being an awesome nurse preceptor.

  • Patience
  • Openness
  • Willingness to listen
  • Fairness
  • Organizational skills
  • Clear communication skills
  • Willingness to learn
  • Broad nursing knowledge skills
  • Ability to make learning fun
  • Excitement about your own job

How to Become an Even Better Preceptor

Even if you already feel that you are doing a pretty good job of leading new graduates or nurses who are new to your unit, there are always ways to improve on what you are doing.

You can hone your skills, change your mindset and reignite your passion for teaching.

To make sure that you are the best possible preceptor whether you are new to the role or looking for ways to improve, follow these 10 steps.

1. Introduce the New Nurse to Unit Culture

I quickly found in my years of bedside nursing that every unit had its own culture.

One unit might be easygoing and fun even during stressful situations while another unit one floor up might be less interconnected and place a higher value on nurse independence.

Introduce the new unit nurse to the nurses on the unit, and show her where things are. Talk to her about unit policies, such as taking breaks and requesting time off work. Also, give her an idea of how to fit in with her new coworkers.

Once she feels like a part of the unit, she will be more comfortable asking coworkers for help.

2. Teach the Basics

While you do not want to treat any new nurse as if she knows nothing, you do not want to assume that she knows specific skills either.

She may not have covered a topic in school, or the unit she is transferring from may have never used a particular piece of equipment that you use every day.

Be careful about using medical jargon without making sure she understands what you are saying. In addition, be sure not to delegate tasks to her until you have watched her carry them out successfully on her own.

3. Help With Time Management

Time management can be a real problem for nurses who care deeply for their patients.

Their great desire to do the best they possibly can and to comfort patients and their family members can keep them from focusing the attention they need to on other portions of their work.

In fact, I have seen one of my coworkers fired for just this problem. The nurse assigned to you needs to learn some form of structure that will work for most shifts on your unit.

Help her determine what tasks she should be doing, which ones are most important and when they must be completed.

4. Keep Judgmental Criticism Far Away

It can be easy to lash out with a sentence or two of frustration when the nurse you are precepting does not know the basics of a common procedure or when she is anxious about calling a surgeon in the middle of the night.

However, this type of criticism can quickly break down relationships, making it nearly impossible for you to help her in the future.

Instead, when the nurse expresses a personal feeling or is honest with you in stating what she does not know, respond objectively and with no ridicule in your tone of voice.

This method will help the new nurse grow in confidence.

Related: How to Give Constructive Feedback in Nursing

5. Watch Out for Cockiness and Pride

Your role as preceptor shows that your managers trust your nursing skills and believe that you are a great leader and teacher on the unit. Be careful of letting this go to your head because too much pride can often lead to disaster.

Similarly, caution your charge about feeling cocky herself. Although it is good to have healthy pride in your work, too much cockiness can quickly lead to life-threatening errors. All nurses, particularly those who are new to the unit, must understand the gravity of their jobs.

Find Your Next Nursing Job

Use our nursing job board to start looking for and applying to great nursing jobs near you.

6. Make Your Expectations Clear

The only clear way to success is to accomplish what the person over you wants done. As the preceptor, you help set the tone for the day and for the entire preceptorship process.

Let the new nurse know what you expect her to accomplish and learn by certain dates. Create goals together so that your charge can take responsibility for her own work.

In addition, let the new nurse know about any unit rules or policies that she must follow and any specific expectations that you have for her so that your time together can be as smooth as possible.

7. Be Personable

It can be easy to get caught up in the hectic atmosphere of your unit.

While there are certainly going to be shifts when you and your charge do not get a chance to sit down, breathe and chat about life for a few minutes, it is important to make time for more laid-back conversations at times.

Many new nurses are eager for this type of relationship, knowing that if they can make friends with one person on the unit, work will be less stressful overall.

8. Encourage Independence When Appropriate

Although the first days on the unit are not the time to set your new charge free to do what she wants without supervision, it is important that you know when it is right to step back and let the new nurse take over.

The general rule of thumb is to have her watch you perform a task at least once and have her do it with supervision once before letting her do it on her own.

Of course, very intricate, difficult or life-saving tasks will most likely need even more practice than this.

9. Make Time for Daily Debriefings

Try to find at least 5 to 10 minutes at the end of each shift to sit down in a quiet location and discuss what happened during the day.

Although this is particularly important on difficult shifts, such as when a patient passed away, it is still very helpful even on those days that seemed to go smoothly.

Discuss what went well, what went wrong, what took too long and what was emotionally difficult.

Talk about creating relationships with physicians and ancillary health care personnel, dealing with grumpy patients, powering through a difficult day physically and finding ways to make time for oneself after each shift.

The new graduate and even the experienced nurse who is new to your unit will most likely have questions to ask you about their performance. Together, you can work on ways to make the next shift even better.

10. Ask for Feedback

This can be the scariest step, but it can also be the most effective at helping you grow into being the best preceptor possible.

Even if your weeks together went smoothly and the new nurse seemed to acclimate to the unit and to daily work well, you can always learn something from each experience that you can use to better yourself for the next time you precept.

Ask for suggestions about unit and organizational policies that seem ineffective or pointless. Ask about ways that you could do better as a teacher or for ways that you could be more clear and helpful.

Just because you have always chosen to precept nurses one way does not mean that there might not be a better way that is more efficient or encouraging.

Find Your Next Nursing Job

Use our nursing job board to start looking for and applying to great nursing jobs near you.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are a nurse preceptor or are thinking about starting in a similar role, the preceptorship experience can be a growing and encouraging one.

Comment below to let us know what your experience has been.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a great nurse preceptor?

Some of the qualities of a great nurse preceptor include patience, openness, willingness to listen, fairness and organizational skills.

What does a nursing preceptor do?

A nursing preceptor is a nurse that teaches and supports a new grad nurse, or a nurse that’s new to their unit.

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