How to Be Successful with Your Preceptor

Starting something new is not always easy. This is especially true when you embark on a new nursing adventure whether it be with a new specialty or new setting or an educational endeavor. Often times, this includes mentorship from a preceptor who is basically there to make sure you don’t kill someone. With healthcare internship programs becoming more and more popular, it is important that you know how to make these relationships work. The key is to find a way to get along with that person and get as much as you can out of the experience in terms of learning. Super easy right? Not always! With most preceptors being someone you have never met and also often randomly assigned to you, there is no guarantee that you’re going to automatically jive. So how do you find a way to forge a successful relationship?

Ensure all expectations and needs are communicated up front.

The first step in any mentoring or preceptorship should be to first figure out what both of you need from the relationship. The preceptor and preceptee should be fully aware of each other’s backgrounds and knowledge base. Make sure your preceptor knows what you are coming into the preceptorship already understanding or what you already have knowledge of. There should be an up front discussion in the beginning about what you both are hoping to get from the experiences you’ll have together. The preceptor should also be sure you know what they expect of you. This can be anything from how you’ll go into a room and assess patients together to how many patients you’ll be taking on your own and when. Going into the mentorship without knowing these expectations on either side is setting yourselves up for failure.

Figure out how you’ll communicate and what your style of communication is.

This is incredibly important for any professional relationship! Don’t wait until you’re in a bind and trying to contact your preceptor emergently on Facebook, not sure when they’ll see it. Establish up front how they expect you to communicate with them whether it be via cell phone, email, etc., and get that information! You’ll thank yourself later and it’ll save you a lot of problems.

Don’t hesitate to address a problem when it comes up and encourage them to do the same.

In any learning environment, nobody is going to be 100% perfect 100% of the time. Expect there to be some wrinkles that need to be ironed out and times when something happens and needs to be discussed. That’s just learning and doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong! However, these times need to be handled in a healthy way that is conducive not only to your professional relationship, but your overall learning and growth. When something happens that you don’t understand or that makes you uneasy or upset, DO NOT hold it in and ignore it happened! Discuss it openly with your preceptor or mentor in a way that best suits both of your styles of communication. Having an open communication and clearing the air helps to keep things moving and will only assist in giving you a smooth experience that works well for everyone.

DO NOT go into it with arrogance and/or expecting to take nothing away from the experience.

This is a big one. One of the biggest peeves for any experienced nurse is getting some A-hole who has some experience somewhere else, who thinks they know everything and makes that clear to everyone around them. We have all met a person like that (and probably come off that way unintentionally!). It’s common for people to want to overcompensate and impress whoever is mentoring or precepting them. However, try the best you can not to do this. Have confidence that you got into whatever position you are training for because you have earned it and let that be enough. People will be much happier helping with your learning experiences if you go into it openly and not throwing in their face whatever experiences or knowledge you have. Not to mention, you’re training for a reason, and anyone in nursing should be able to tell you that you learn something new every day. No matter how experienced you think you are, try and keep a level head and the ego at bay.

Check in with your preceptor and education team regularly.

This one helps if you have a long mentorship program like the one I went through. I went through a 12 week transition program for experienced nurses wishing to go to the ED from an inpatient unit. We also had 4 weeks of education included before starting the clinical training. That long period meant lots of checking in with the education team and figuring out what how things are going. Make sure everyone is on the same page and that you’re working hard on your weaknesses or areas needing improvement. You should also be told what your strengths are and what you’re doing well! Let the education team and/or your preceptor know what you need more help with. You should also tell them if you feel you need more time when your time is coming to a close. Safety is key, even if it means we aren’t all ready to be on our own in the cookie cutter amount of time allotted.

Realize when it’s just not working out and let someone know!

Unfortunately, we may have all had some professional relationships that just aren’t going to blossom and flourish. The same may happen at some point with a preceptor. Honesty is always the best policy. Nobody is going to benefit from a nasty, sour relationship filled with tension or animosity. We all know that nursing is full of women and sometimes, women don’t get along with each other. (Shocker, right?!) So if you’ve both done your best and it’s just NOT working out, let someone know. Don’t wait until time is up and it’s too late, and you’re on your own without knowing everything you should’ve learned in your training time. Some people just don’t jive, and that’s totally okay.

What suggestions do you have for a successful preceptor/preceptee relationship?

Much love,

Just Ask the Nurse

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