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Ask a Nurse: What Should I Expect From My Nursing Preceptorship?


Updated June 17, 2022 · 3 Min Read

As a new nurse, you have to complete certain steps to master the first level of nursing. Your preceptor’s role is to support, teach, and mentor you to help you achieve that first level.
Ask a Nurse: What Should I Expect From My Nursing Preceptorship?
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In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

Question: I'm starting my preceptorship and want to make the most of it. What should I expect? How do I navigate potential issues that may arise?

Congratulations, you did it! You graduated from nursing school and are now on the path to your nursing career. Starting as a new nurse is very different from nursing school. You will be responsible for monitoring and caring for patients on your own. But first, before flying solo, you will be assigned a nurse preceptor.

A nurse preceptor is an experienced nurse who will work with you during your orientation for a certain amount of time. Orientation or preceptorship usually lasts for a minimum of six weeks, or longer depending on the department. For example, if you work in the intensive care unit or the emergency room, your orientation can last up to four or five months.

Most preceptors are chosen and accept the role. If you are working on a floor short of nurses, a preceptor may be selected, involuntarily, to work as your preceptor.

What Is a Nurse Preceptor?

Your nurse preceptor's role is to, first and foremost, support, teach, and be a nurse mentor to you as a new nurse. If that isn't their intention, you can and should switch preceptors if possible.

A preceptor's role is to teach and guide you to:

  • Stay organized
  • Create a nursing care plan
  • Prioritize and cluster care
  • Master time management and task delegation
  • Gain vital skills needed to care for patients
  • Recognize critical patients and when to intervene
  • Care for multiple patients independently
  • Empower you to advocate for your patients
  • Effectively communicate with patients, family members, staff members, and the healthcare team

How to Make the Most From Your Nursing Preceptorship

Since you may only have a few weeks or several months of preceptorship, you have to make the most of it. You will learn how to manage and care for your patients during this time.

Look at your preceptorship like mastering the belt levels in jiu-jitsu or karate. As a new nurse, your goal is to achieve the first level of nursing and earn your "white" or "orange belt" during orientation. It's your preceptor's responsibility to get you to this level successfully.

To make the most from your nursing preceptorship, you want to:

  • Arrive to work on time
  • Always be prepared
  • Communicate effectively with your preceptor
  • Create measurable goals
  • Ask for feedback
  • Write things down you don't understand, and then look it up when you have the time
  • Listen
  • Ask for help
  • Take breaks
  • Ask questions
  • Acknowledge when you're wrong
  • Debrief with your preceptor after each shift
  • Personally reflect on what you have learned

Before starting your orientation with your preceptor, it is important to establish goals between you and your preceptor. Make sure you are on the same page. You can ask questions like:

  • How do you like to communicate?
  • How has your experience been with other new nurses?
  • How do you like to complete your work?
  • How do you prefer to teach?
  • What are your teaching strategies and teaching styles?
  • At what point should we sit down and discuss my progress?
  • Is there anything I should know to make sure my orientation is successful?
  • Is there anything you wouldn't like me to do?
  • How can we ensure our partnership is going to be successful?

If It's Not the Right Fit, You Can Switch Preceptors

There is an unfortunate saying in nursing: "Nurses eat their young." There is some truth to this. Some nurses can take their preceptor role as if they are your boss rather than your teacher. Some nurses are also burnt out or overwhelmed by postpandemic nursing shortages and treating patients with COVID-19.

To combat this reality:

  • Communicate with your preceptor and don't keep issues to yourself
  • As soon as you notice a problem between you and your preceptor, bring it up to your manager or nurse educator
  • If you still don't feel comfortable or feel bullied, ask to switch your preceptor

Remember, your preceptor may not always be a great match for you. If you're worried you'll hurt your nurse preceptor's feelings, the best thing is to communicate with your preceptor that things aren't working out.

If that feels uncomfortable, have your nurse manager or nurse educator hold a meeting with you and your preceptor. Having an extra person mediate the conversation may help the situation.

How to Advocate for Yourself as a New Nurse

Some new nurses naturally have the skills to stand up for themselves. Others feel intimidated or shy. To perform the best care for your patients, not only do you have to advocate for them, you should feel empowered to advocate for yourself, too.

At the beginning of your orientation, you may not recognize when you are doing something wrong. After time and practice, you will feel competent and confident in completing certain tasks.

When this happens, let your preceptor know you are ready to do specific tasks by yourself. Your preceptor should be keeping track of your progress through your orientation packet, so this shouldn't come as a surprise.

However, if you're feeling tension or frustration from your preceptor, you can raise the issue with your preceptor or nurse manager. Your preceptor may be projecting frustrations onto you because of the current circumstances with COVID-19, nurse burnout, and the nursing shortage. It's important that you and your preceptor manage expectations.

Communication Tips for New Nurses

The key way to navigate issues with your preceptor is through effective communication. Here is how to navigate common issues:

If your preceptor is passive-aggressive, make sure to address it with them, your manager, or nurse educator.
If your preceptor is making you feel discouraged, try to be proactive and master a skill you are having difficulty with. Ask an experienced nurse you trust to help you. If all else fails, speak to your nurse manager or nurse educator.
If your preceptor doesn't have time for you, this is a real concern. Write down what you're going to do for the day, and make sure you and your preceptor are on the same page. If you feel like you are teaching yourself, bring it up to your nurse manager or nurse educator.
This can be a common problem, especially if your preceptor thinks you're ready to work alone. Establish your learning style at the beginning of your preceptorship. When you feel like you need help or want more hands-on experience, remind your preceptor you work and learn better by working together.

In Summary:

  • A nurse preceptor is an experienced nurse who will work with you during your orientation for a certain amount of time, typically anywhere from six weeks to five months.
  • A preceptor's role is to help you learn how to manage and care for your patients.
  • To make the most of your preceptorship, you want to listen, ask questions, and speak to your nurse manager or nurse educator if you run into any issues.
  • Advocating for yourself not only benefits you, but it also benefits your patients. Speak to your nurse manager or nurse educator if your preceptor isn't the right fit for you.

In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

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