Sep 08, 2020
By Mary Vincent

4 tips to having a positive experience with a nursing preceptor

istockphoto.ca/SDIProductionsAs the shift progresses, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the procedures you observe and participate in. The focus here is on both acquiring knowledge and ensuring patient safety.

Takeaway messages

  • As a student, take a moment to be kind, caring, and compassionate toward the nurse to ensure that she is well cared for while you are in her presence.
  • Start the day with a brief, yet meaningful, thank-you to the nurse and acknowledge both the time and energy she is about to spend on helping you learn.
  • Ask questions (which places you in a vulnerable position) to help show you acknowledge that you are still learning and need the guidance of an experienced nurse like her.

Every nurse has been there at some point in their life. Every nurse has been a student. There are no exceptions to this rule. So why is it that some nurses seem to forget what it was like to be a student? Take a moment and picture this:

It’s 06:30; you are standing outside the unit, waiting for your instructor. The clean antiseptic smell is overwhelming, a testament to the limited number of hospitals you have been in so far. You see signs on the wall that say, “New grads are friends, not food” and “Wash your hands” or variations on these.

You have made a point of being on time and leaving your phone in your locker, as your instructor advised.

You are anxiously waiting to learn who your patient today is and who your nurse will be. A thousand potential situations run through your mind.

At last, you receive your patient: an 85-year-old male, alert and oriented x2, stand-by assist on 2 litres of oxygen. Diagnosis: aspiration pneumonia and a history of dementia. A great introductory patient for gaining and improving on the nursing skills you are required to complete.

Next, the instructor introduces you to your nurse after report. Now this is where it can go one of two very distinct routes. Does your nurse remember what it is like to be a student, or have they forgotten? You hope and pray that they remember, and that they approach having a student with kindness, excitement, and a willingness to teach. You hope that they are willing to answer even your most basic questions and provide a supported independence with your patient. This would be optimal. Although this is not always the case, you have been fortunate enough to be partnered with such nurses in the past, and you hold out hope.

Your first conversation with the nurse goes something like this: “So you’re in your second year? Does that mean you can do anything yet?” Before you can answer, the nurse sighs under her breath, as though disappointed with you before you’ve done anything to merit this.

You say that although you are in your second year, you have been cleared in many skills and are excited to learn more. The nurse rolls her eyes and makes some remark about already being behind in work and now her shift is going to be even more stressful because she “had to get the student.” You are disheartened, but not surprised.

After all, sometimes it is not only the patient in the bed who needs a little extra compassion, but also the nurse standing in front of you.

It is going to be another one of those days. Here’s how you can help make the best of the situation.

1, Be kind, caring, and compassionate

Fighting for help, being treated like an incompetent student, and being ignored at times. You can’t help but wonder: when did this nurse forget what it was like to be a student? Was it when she was treated poorly by the nurses before her? Was it when she was overworked on an understaffed and underfunded unit, and having a student simply became too much? Or was it when she forgot her passion for the job and that nurses aren’t just caretakers of the body, but also of the spirit?

You will never have an answer to these questions, so the best you can do is to remind her what it is like.

You can take this moment to be kind, caring, and compassionate, and ensure that she is well cared for while you are in her presence. After all, sometimes it is not only the patient in the bed who needs a little extra compassion, but also the nurse standing in front of you.

You want to make sure that her spirit is cared for and that she understands how valuable her experience and expertise are to the students paired with her.

2, Be appreciative, respectful, and helpful

The question now is how might you convey all this to her, especially throughout an already chaotic, underfunded, and overcapacity shift. Though her initial comments set you back, keep in mind that her reaction is not due to your presence on the unit; it is due to the numerous demands placed on nurses that, with cuts to health care, only seem to increase incessantly.

You might start the day with a brief, yet meaningful, thank-you to the nurse and acknowledge both the time and energy she is about to spend on helping you learn. You can remind her that she is a valuable role model.

Throughout the day as you learn skills and accomplish tasks, you may begin to feel increasingly independent. While this is good, remember that you are a student and require the assistance of the nurse you are partnered with. Your ultimate goal today is to meet the needs of both your patient and your preceptor.

3, Don’t be afraid to ask questions

As the shift progresses, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the procedures you observe and participate in. The focus here is on both acquiring knowledge and ensuring patient safety. Good questions will also remind the nurse that sharing her knowledge is essential for students.

By asking questions (which places you in a vulnerable position) you acknowledge that you are still learning and need the guidance of an experienced nurse like her.

It is important that you demonstrate your desire to be part of the team.

However, be judicious in the questions that you ask. Be direct and to the point. In this way, you acknowledge that she too has her own assignment and tasks that she must complete. You are not the only person in her care today.

Finally, you might ask whether she needs help. You can be proactive in assisting with her patient load while you can.

4, Be a good teammate

Although you are assigned to just one patient today, nursing is a team profession. It is important that you demonstrate your desire to be part of the team. You begin to notice that the nurse softens a little and becomes more receptive to your presence.

End the shift with another thank-you that mirrors the one this morning. You can also acknowledge outright how having students can be challenging, but that each student is privileged to learn from role models in this profession who care so diligently, even fiercely, for their patients.

Although your encounter with this nurse has been brief, it has been valuable. It has provided you with skills and experiences that will help you grow as a student, and you will carry it with you over your whole career.

Editor’s note: to gain insight into the nurse’s perspective when working with a student, read Joanne Petersen’s recent article, Supporting student nurses: every nurse has something to offer. Petersen offers advice to nurses on how to create a positive working environment and says, “supporting student nurse practice is an element of professional standards, and an ethical consideration for all nurses.”

Mary Vincent is a newly graduated registered nurse from Sherwood Park, Alberta. Mary completed her bachelor of science in nursing at MacEwan University in 2020 and is currently working at the University of Alberta Hospital. She is excited to begin her career in nursing and plans to return to school to complete her master’s in public health sciences in the coming years.

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