nurse bedside
HealthFebruary 21, 2017

Use of preceptors improves nurse outcomes

What are the qualities of effective nurse preceptors who develop the best and brightest nurses?

In today’s healthcare landscape, the need for strong nursing preceptors is stronger now than ever before.  As economic conditions have steadily improved since the great recession of 2008-2009, many Baby Boomer-era nurses are finally retiring from the nursing workforce.  And with the sizable Millennial generation poised to take over these vacating positions, the task of effectively onboarding and mentoring these new nurses will be critical.

Newly graduated nurses have the education to be skilled caregivers, but may lack the experience necessary for the complex problem solving that comes with the job. The nurse preceptor’s relationship with new nurse grads is key to their successful independent function and socialization into the healthcare organization’s culture.

Preparing new graduates to acquire qualities such as flexibility and adaptability are key for preceptors and new nurses in the learning process. Working as an independent RN includes not only training and practice, but also reflective time to develop clinical reasoning for problem-solving required in today’s hospital environment.

The preceptor's role

Preceptorship bridges the gap between the classroom and the clinical area where nursing is practiced. The preceptor is an experienced RN who is enthusiastic about the nursing profession and has a desire to teach. Role modeling professional interactions on the care unit, demonstrating nursing actions, and giving timely and appropriate feedback to new nurses are ways of fulfilling this role.

The preceptor creates an environment conducive to learning and determines appropriate patient care assignments. To do so, the preceptor assesses the nurse's situation and collaborates with him/her to determine goals and learning outcomes. The preceptor’s knowledge of the clinical area and the patient population will help guide nurses to select relevant and attainable goals and outcomes.

Communication between preceptor and nurse is vital. The preceptor is there to provide timely, honest, and respectful feedback, whether positive or negative. The preceptor assesses the nurse’s ability to manage clinical assignments and stays aware of situations in which he or she might need direct supervision on more complex nursing actions.

Preceptor programs

As new graduate RNs transition to the professional world and experienced nurses transition into new specialties, the role of the nurse preceptor in making these transitions successful cannot be overemphasized. Preceptors were previously chosen based solely on years of experience and willingness to educate new nurses. Today, healthcare organizations are providing preceptor development programs that typically include 3-6 hours of classes covering the roles, responsibilities and expectations of a preceptor, adult learning principles, principles of feedback, learning styles, and communication skills.

Preceptor programs guide preceptors in fostering important interpersonal skills with new nurses needed for problem-solving, conflict resolution, delegation, and providing verbal guidance.

The success of orienting a new graduate to be a safe practicing nurse is a team effort. Members of the team include preceptors, managers, clinical nurse specialists (CNS), nurse practitioners, and peers. Any hospital considering adoption of this approach first has to make the business case to administration. With administrative backing, funds required to implement the program are more likely to be supported.

The hospital also needs a well-developed shared governance structure that values an evidence-based approach in training newly hired nurses and implementing the preceptor program. After implementation, hospitals must continue to monitor quality care, turnover, retention, and completion of clinical orientation of the new nurses. The nursing education department should evaluate the program and make revisions as indicated.

The investment hospitals make in selecting and educating preceptors demonstrates its worth in resulting quality care and positive patient outcomes. The value of nurses who think critically and look beyond current tasks to the health trajectory of patients is incomparable.  Have you ever worked as or with a preceptor? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

For more information on how to strengthen your facility’s nursing preceptorship program, check out the Preceptor Preparation program set of the Lippincott Professional Development Collection institutional competency management software.  Available with institutional subscription purchases and comprised of 10 CE-accredited online courses, this program teaches experienced nursing staff how to serve as preceptors for new nurse hires, student nurses, and existing staff transitioning to a new department.  For a free course preview, click HERE and then select ‘Preceptor Prep Program.’

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