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The Effective Nurse Preceptor

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Nurses have served their countries in times of peace and war since before Florence Nightingale. And they continue to embody the public's expectations of healthcare professionals at the ready with the knowledge, skills and compassion required to help them when they need it most. 

But nurses don't just happen.

They are molded, shaped, educated and mentored, which is why having effective preceptors on staff is integral to recruiting and retaining a reliable, professional nursing workforce.

Preceptor Competencies

To be an effective preceptor, a nurse must not only posses those skills required of all nurses, but also be a planner, coach, advocate, evaluator, cheerleader and role model for new nurses, be they novices or experienced pros.

Employing these skills will facilitate an effective transition process for nurses new to any hospital unit.

Conversely, a lack of preceptor competency contributes to dissatisfaction for the new nurse and limited longevity in the new position.

Even an experienced nurse, although clinically competent in her previous position, typically faces environmental, cultural, social, technological, physical, political and emotional changes on a new job.

In addition to learning the complexities of the new job, nurses also face evidence-based changes to their clinical practice based on research, as well as seemingly endless upgrades in technologies.

Add to the mix the high costs of recruiting and training staff in an era when insufficient staffing levels permeate the nation's hospitals and it's easy to see why effective preceptors are integral to retaining staff.

Characteristics of Successful Programs

Successful preceptor programs demonstrate that decreasing anxiety for new nurses can improve teamwork, increase productivity and augment assimilation of organizational values for an entire unit.

Novice nurses frequently experience multiple frustrations while learning how to effectively manage a full workload.

Unrealistic expectations during a preceptorship contribute to "reality shock." Saddling a new nurse with a full caseload of patients too soon, can cause her to look elsewhere for employment.

In addition to unrealistic expectations, obstacles to successful preceptor programs include a lack of trained preceptors, insufficient planning, high levels of stress or anxiety, as well as personal issues and inflexibility on part of preceptors.

Several training programs geared at preceptors and helping them achieve needed competencies are available on the market.

One program evaluated for this article was the "Effective Nurse Preceptor Workshop," by Brian Rogers, RN, BSc, CCRN, DHA, EMT-HP.

Rogers' program includes student handbooks and a faculty guide that includes practice forms and other learning materials, such as a CD with downloadable educational materials.  

Among lessons learned are that the effective preceptor demonstrates a positive attitude and contributes to problem-solving and resolution by utilizing effective assessment and listening skills, and also providing corrective feedback regarding expectations.

As Rogers says: "An effective preceptor will recognize the stages and support a new nurse through all phases of transition ? honeymoon, reality shock, recovery and resolution."1

Extra Credit

Ultimately, precepting is much more than just another task to be assigned to an experienced nurse on a given unit.

Having effective preceptors can mean the difference between having a fully staffed workplace, where nurses want to work, or one where consistently high turnover rates makes it seem like there is a revolving door.


1. Rogers, B. (2003). Nurse program builder: Tools for a successful preceptor program. Effective Nurse Preceptor Workshop. Marblehead, MA: HCPro Inc.

Karen Scott is a nurse educator at Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center, Columbia, SC.

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I graduated from an associate's program and recieved an RN nursing license in 1986. My work experience is ecletic: medical floor nursing, emergency department, clinic, research and nursing home/geriatric experience. I was a stay-at-home mom since 1993. As a result, I find it difficult to find employment due to the absence. During that time, I graduated from Hunter College with a BA in psychology and a master's in educational psychology. I would like to return to the field of nursing and am seeking an employer who offers a well-developed preceptor program. Thank you. Nina Straussner, RN

Nina StraussnerJune 24, 2010
Mamaroneck, NY


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