Nurse Preceptor Best Practices
HealthSeptember 07, 2017

Nurse preceptor best practices

A first-rate preceptor program is essential to nurse recruitment and retention.

When you first started out as a nurse, did you have a nurse preceptor? A nurse preceptor is an experienced and competent staff nurse who serves as a role model and point person to newly employed staff nurses, student nurses, or new graduate nurses.

As a resource for new employees, nurse preceptors must socialize, protect, educate, and evaluate the nurses who are making the transition into a new work environment. The presence of a formal transition program will result in better retention rates and improved competency among nursing staff.

Essentials for success

Best practices for your nurse preceptor program should revolve around four major themes: education, support, competency and critical thinking, and workplace environment. Evidence suggests that new employee orientation should focus on practical skill development, preceptors should receive a level of formal training, support should be available for at least six to nine months post-hire, opportunities for connection with peers should be provided, and organizations should strive to ensure clinical units with healthy work environments.

While preceptors were traditionally only assigned to newly-licensed nurses, having a preceptor for experienced nurses who are newly hired or transition to a new nursing specialty is just as critical. New employees’ transition to their work environment is central to recruitment and retention.

A proven preceptor program is the Nurse Preceptor Academy (NPA), created to provide nurse preceptors with tools to empower new graduate nurses and newly hired experienced RNs to become competent and valuable members of the healthcare team. The NPA’s mission is to develop qualified staff nurses as preceptors, with the specific purpose of increasing retention. The overall program provides essential preceptor knowledge and skills, and ongoing support for preceptors.

Selecting the right preceptors

Nurses who will make the best preceptors have the following qualities:

  • commitment and desire to be a preceptor
  • clinical competence
  • continuous professional development
  • caring attributes
  • minimum number of years of experience, for example 2 years
  • minimum level of academic education, for example BSN
  • nursing specialty certification.

When preparing preceptors, begin with the end in mind. By thinking about what you and your organization want as the end result, you lay the ground work for what the program needs to include and how to select preceptor candidates. This also lays the foundation for developing the performance metrics you can use to measure the success of the program.

Your organization’s mission statement, nursing practice model, and orientation framework are among some of the resources you can use to help define that outcome. It's also helpful to look at data from previous orientees’ evaluations of the program that may contribute to establishing your desired end result.

Involve those who have a strong vested interest in the program’s results—nurse educators, preceptors, and nurse managers. Engage them when you brainstorm about goals. The nurse educator brings knowledge of research and best practices that support the content and strategies for delivering the program; the preceptor provides insight into what is working (or not) and what development and support is needed for preceptors in an existing program or in a new one; and the nurse manager plays a key role in the preceptor’s success in applying what was learned.

When choosing content and strategies, let the skills listed above guide your outline of the content materials. NPA's training materials, based on adult learning theory, have been piloted, critically reviewed, and refined. The eight education modules range from goal setting and critical thinking to workplace socialization and conflict resolution.

For those preceptors who complete the preparation program and successfully function in the preceptor role, support them in their continuing professional development. Identify ways to recognize the preceptors for their commitment to welcoming and developing new nurses to the profession or specialty in order to ensure quality, safe patient care and optimal outcomes.

How do you train nurse preceptors for success with new nurses? Leave us a comment below.

Additional resources

For additional support on ensuring the competency of your nursing preceptors, let Lippincott help.  Our Lippincott Professional Development Collection institutional education and competency validation software includes over 370 online CE courses with a robust program set of 11 courses on ‘Preceptor Preparation.’ Click HERE to learn more.

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