No matter how confident or prepared you are, sometimes you just need a helping hand to guide you through the hard times at work.
Fortunately for young nurses in Australia, they often have nursing preceptors there to be that guide.
So, what is a nursing preceptor? What do they do? And how can you become one? Let’s get into it.
What is a nursing preceptor?
A nursing preceptor helps newly registered professionals integrate into their new team, department or workplace, and provides guidance through the orientation process (Fedele, 2020).
Namely, nursing preceptors exist to make sure new members of the nursing team are brought up to speed regarding standards of care, universal policies and workplace procedures.
How can you become a nursing preceptor?
Acquire an undergraduate degree
In most instances, you must have a Bachelor of Nursing to be able to work as a preceptor in Australia.
You can complement this undergraduate degree with certifications and courses that can make you more prepared to provide professional guidance and support, such as the following:
Gain practical work experience
Nursing preceptors are able to provide informed guidance to their new colleagues because they have had extensive clinical experience in the clinical area.
With that in mind, it’s integral that nursing preceptors are knowledgeable in a variety of areas and are comfortable providing mentorship and guidance to the newer members of staff. This comfort will naturally occur alongside time spent working in that environment.
However, if you’re only two or three years into your career, it might be more professionally beneficial for you to spend your time focusing on expanding your understanding of your clinical practice. You’ll be a better preceptor after spending a few years experiencing the depth and breadth of the healthcare industry.
Create a network of professional connections
A large professional network can help both you and your junior team members:
Professional networks mean you can facilitate relevant discussions with other preceptors. You can ask them questions or even explain your own experience to answer theirs. In short, you can lift each other up and improve as a group.
Professional networks are a goldmine of knowledge and opportunity for younger or newer staff members. If one of your mentees asks you a complex question about a niche area of care, you can send them in the direction of a colleague who you know has experience in that area. By doing so, you’re providing your mentees with reliable information while also safeguarding your time from being spent trying to answer questions you might not be able to.
Don’t forget to nurture this network while you try to expand it: getting to know new people in new areas is great, but always put aside some time and energy to maintain your existing connections. Congratulate someone on LinkedIn or post a supportive comment on a colleague’s professional Instagram post – you only need to put in a small amount of effort to stay in the loop.
What makes a great preceptor?
Understand the role you play in the lives of your mentees
A nursing preceptor does more than just teach new hires about policies and procedures.
A nursing preceptor should also:
provide and nurture motivation and enthusiasm
provide constructive feedback
provide confidence-boosting praise
encourage a healthy work-life balance
Most importantly, however, nursing preceptors are there to help bridge the gap between theory and practice. This gap can take many forms: perhaps a mentee is struggling with a practical skill that they only learnt about in theory, or maybe a mentee is struggling to understand the complex interpersonal hierarchy within the nursing team.
Whatever the issue, nursing preceptors are there to anticipate issues, explain processes and provide support to newer members of staff.
Communicate regularly, openly and clearly
When you become a nursing preceptor, your original workload doesn’t necessarily change. As such, nursing preceptors have to be succinct when communicating with mentees, but also have to make sure the mentees don’t feel like a distraction in the busy workplace.
Nursing preceptors need to be aware of the effect their communication can have upon mentees and must try their hardest to answer questions patiently yet concisely. It’s also essential that a preceptor’s delegation skills are matched with an understanding of the importance of regularly checking in with the mentees.
Good communication – especially as a preceptor – is a learnt skill. Don’t count yourself out if you think you’d struggle here. Ask other nursing preceptors in your workplace how they manage it, or even ask if you can watch them in action at some point!
Set clear expectations
This builds directly off the previous point: you need to ensure that the nurses under your guidance know exactly what you expect from them.
This doesn’t just relate to your professional relationship. While it’s important that they know how often you want them to check in with you or how regularly they should reach out regarding one-on-ones, it’s also important that they know what you expect from them in their professional life.
For example, ensure they know what you expect from them regarding professional conduct, attitude towards onboarding, and openness to feedback.
What else is there to learn?
If you’re considering working as a nursing preceptor because you believe you fit the description – or maybe because you had a great experience with your own preceptor as a graduate nurse – reach out to the leadership team in your department.
Nursing preceptors need to be confident leaders. Use the following Ausmed educational resources to sharpen your leadership skills:
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Fedele, R., 2020. ‘How to be a good preceptor.’ Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal. Accessed 24 October 2022 via https://anmj.org.au/how-to-be-a-good-preceptor/