Newly graduated registered nurses (RNs) taking on their first clinical role need a guiding hand and steady voice to help them through the transition to independent practice. Nurse preceptors, who often have years of experience as advanced practice RNs (APRNs), can provide the support and assistance that novice nurses need.
Nurse preceptors use evidence-based practices to help new RNs or RNs new to a unit by providing useful feedback, setting learning objectives, teaching hospital protocols, and encouraging critical thinking. Preceptor relationships have been found to support the next generation of nurses. Good preceptors are actively engaging, open to questions, patient, and understanding.
“Preceptors live at the intersections of education and practice, and of the present and the future. They practice at the point where theoretical learning meets reality and where the gap between current and needed knowledge and expertise gets filled,” Beth Tamplet Ulrich wrote in “Mastering Precepting: A Nurse’s Handbook for Success.” “Preceptors are the essential link between what nurses are taught and what they do, and between what nurses know and what they need to know.”
Learning how to be a good preceptor in nursing takes effort, time, and proper education. APRNs who train in nurse education, including through an online master’s in nursing program, may be some of the best-qualified nurses to take on the multifaceted role. Becoming a nurse educator and preceptor may be among the reasons why getting a master’s in nursing is so important for RNs seeking career advancement.
Preceptor Roles in Nursing
The concept of the preceptor in nursing dates back to the early 1980s when nurse educator and author Patricia Benner introduced her book, From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice. In the tome, Benner said nurses develop their skillset through years of experience. She based her theory on the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition research that shows individuals pass through five stages of proficiency — novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.
Healthcare leaders have found preceptors demonstrate competency in several areas. In doing so, they have many job functions:
Teacher and Coach
New nurses, whether they are new to the profession or to the hospital unit, join forces with preceptors to learn new skills and knowledge. Preceptors should understand the science behind teaching (such as learning theories) and the art of teaching (applying the learning theories in understandable ways). Ulrich’s Mastering Precepting: A Nurse’s Handbook for Success outlined four critical components that encourage learning:
- A space designated for learning
- Concrete illustrations of the materials to be learned
- An opportunity to control the pace of learning
- Time for the learner to reflect on the materials
In addition to teaching, preceptors add an element of coaching or helping the learner understand when and how to use a new skill.
Leader and Influencer
As RNs, preceptors are leaders and influencers because they exhibit the five values that epitomize a caring professional nurse, as defined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN):
- A concern for the welfare of others (altruism)
- The right to self-determination (autonomy)
- Respect for others (human dignity)
- Practice in accordance with ethics and standards (integrity)
- Fair treatment for all (social justice)
“Preceptors can use their influence in many situations to obtain what is needed in their roles as preceptors and nurses,” Ulrich said in her book.
As facilitators, preceptors work to find assignments and make connections that meet the learner’s needs. As the relationship continues and grows, the role of the facilitator slowly shifts to the learner.
“Mastering Precepting: A Nurse’s Handbook for Success” noted that experiential learning requires an environment in which the experiences, and the learning that occurs from those experiences, is intentionally planned.
Evaluation is a formal opportunity for the preceptor and learner to discuss expectations and provide feedback. Evaluation should be an ongoing process that improves the quality of the educational experience.
As a role model, the preceptor’s job includes protecting, educating, evaluating, and socializing new nurses by using evidence-based practices. Preceptors must demonstrate effective leadership and clinical competency.
Working as a Nurse Preceptor
Many skills are needed when learning how to be a good preceptor in nursing. Healthcare leaders have found that the best preceptors have these attributes:
- A high level of expertise in clinical care
- Enthusiasm for teaching new nurses
- Strong communication skills
- A caring attitude
“Preceptors are expected to have the skills to be able to form an effective learning environment and facilitate a constructive clinical learning experience for students and new employees,” researchers said in “Knowledge and skills needed to improve as a preceptor: development of a continuous professional development course — a qualitative study.”
In addition to working with newly graduated nurses, preceptors also work with some students as they complete their clinical requirements. In “Graduate Clinical Nurse Preceptors: Implications for Improved Intra-Professional Collaboration,” the study authors found that preceptors in both education and healthcare settings are essential to cultivating graduate-level nurses. At Duquesne University, RNs earning a family nurse practitioner (FNP) degree have an opportunity to work alongside preceptors.
“Nursing faculty and their graduate students rely on the expertise and clinical acumen of preceptors to guide and direct students as they learn new clinical roles. Correspondingly, healthcare agencies rely on advanced practice education programs to develop the next cadre of nurse practitioners and advanced clinicians,” study authors said.
About Duquesne University’s Online MSN in Nurse Education and Faculty Role
Duquesne University’s online master’s in nursing program prepares RNs for careers as faculty members in nursing programs and for roles as preceptors. The university’s online master’s in nursing program develops MSN-educated nurses who are ready to assist nursing students for the future of healthcare.
Duquesne University’s online master’s in nursing program also offers concentrations in Forensic Nursing or Transcultural Nursing. Nurses with MSN degrees are also eligible to enroll in the university’s online Nurse Education and Faculty Role Post-Master’s Certificate program. The programs prepare RNs for advanced practice nursing certification exams.
ALD, Patricia Benner, “Novice to Expert – A Concept Whose Time Has Come (Again)”
Mastering Precepting, “A Nurse’s Handbook for Success, Nurse Preceptor”
Indiana Center for Nursing, “Preceptor as Evaluator”
PMC, “Knowledge and skills needed to improve as preceptor: development of a continuous professional development course – a qualitative study”
OJIN, “Graduate Clinical Nurse Preceptors: Implications for Improved Intra-Professional Collaboration”