Nursing News

Training the Trainers: Developing Today’s Nurse Preceptors and Mentors


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By Susan Kreimer, MS, contributor

Oct. 22, 2009 - When Jan Hastings, MSN, RN, became a nurse 34 years ago, formal training for preceptors didn’t exist.

“It was kind of an expectation that once you were comfortable in your role, that you would be able to precept,” said Hastings, manager of nursing education and professional development at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Ill. Nursing research later showed that “training is absolutely necessary to be a good preceptor.”

In recent years, health care facilities have implemented more formalized training for preceptors. “There has been an explosion of online precepting programs,” said Meg Gulanick, PhD, APRN, FAAN, a professor at Loyola University Chicago’s Niehoff School of Nursing in Maywood, Ill., and some nursing schools are turning to professional preceptors instead of the typical “clinical faculty” to guide undergraduate students.

In August, Loyola hosted a national summit on innovative strategies for clinical precepting. The two-day event was geared toward nurse educators and staff development coordinators.

“On another front, even patient groups are beginning to utilize the concept of ‘preceptor’ to help novice patients navigate through their treatments, such as in oncology therapies,” Gulanick said.

Carle Foundation Hospital created a program for aspiring nurse preceptors. The requirements to be considered: a minimum of two years’ experience, including one year at Carle, and a manager’s nomination. Those who are selected must take a five-hour workshop.

“Not everyone can be a preceptor,” Hastings said. “Some people are very clinically strong, but they cannot teach.”

The desire also has to come from within a preceptor. When it does, precepting offers professional fulfillment. As a role model to recent graduates and other new hires, a preceptor has a direct impact on the quality of patient care.

Carle provides a $500 stipend to a nurse who successfully guides a new employee through orientation, which lasts between six weeks to six months depending on the specialty.

The preceptor’s objective differs somewhat from a mentor’s role, Hastings said. While a preceptor focuses more heavily on honing a new hire’s clinical skills, a mentor lends emotional support – a shoulder to lean on when needed.

“Our HR department has a program set aside for the mentor,” she said. “Mentors are brought into a class and they look at goals for the unit – how to get the new hire integrated into the unit socially.”

In residency and internship programs, the mentoring relationship is usually an assigned pairing. Experienced individuals with a desire to mentor are matched with a mentee. A coordinator typically ensures that meetings and communication take place between the two, said Kathleen Reeves, MSN, RN, CNS, CMSRN, past president of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses.

The academy has a mentoring program called Nurses Nurturing Nurses, or N3 for short, with hospital-based and online options. In the hospital program, the mentor and mentee work in the same institution but not on the same unit, so the mentor doesn’t play an evaluative role.

“However, there is usually an evaluative component to the role of the preceptor. The preceptor and preceptee work together,” said Reeves, clinical associate professor of clinical nursing in the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The online program through the academy can be particularly helpful to nurses who don’t have access to a mentoring program within their own institutions.

A shortage of preceptors is due largely to the increasing turnover of experienced nurses. Differences in cultural backgrounds, generational gaps and learning styles also complicate the coaching process, said Loyola’s Gulanick, which reinforces the need for training.

In addition to online and hospital-based programs, books are also available to assist preceptors. For many nurses, the rewards outweigh the challenges.

“You get to help mold the next group of nurses and future nurse leaders,” Gulanick said.  “You get to repay your own learning experiences. Precepting also helps stimulate one’s thinking and provide alternative ideas.”

© 2009. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.