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"What I Learned From My Preceptor" words of wisdom from the senior nursing students

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Preceptors deserve a lot of credit. Being a preceptor, working one-on-one with a nursing student or a new graduate nurse, twelve hours at a time, is often both fun and exhausting at the same time; it is truly a labor of love. A group of senior nursing students summarized some major lessons they learned from their preceptors and from the patients they cared for together.

Specializes in Pediatric Emergency & Nurse Education.

What is the role of a preceptor?

"What I Learned From My Preceptor" words of wisdom from the senior nursing students

Many nursing students make the transition from regular, group clinical rotations to working one on one with "real nurses", or preceptors, during their senior year. Preceptors put a lot of time, energy and heart into helping teach the students during this formative point in their nursing education. Sometimes the lessons learned are intentional, such as communication or assessment tips. Other lessons occur naturally as the students constantly observe their preceptors in every situation. Some of the most memorable lessons come from the patients the preceptors and students care for together.

This list serves as a tribute to preceptors everywhere who dedicate themselves to helping grow the next generation of nurses.

"What I learned from my preceptor"

Take On More Responsibility

This is [usually] the last clinical you will have before you are a RN with your own patients, so don't be afraid to take on a little more responsibility. Your preceptor [should always be] there for you and you should be able to trust that they won't let you take on more than you can handle.

Spend Time With Your Patients

One of the best things you can do for patients is just spend time with them. A lot of people are lonely, anxious, or just need to verbally process what is happening. If you are safely able to, spend extra time with patients. It allows for ongoing assessment and really takes care of a lot of their psychosocial needs.

Learn New Skills

As you are learning new skills, verbalize what you are doing and the rationale behind it. It is an extra safety check for you and your preceptor and helps your preceptor to assess your knowledge level. Explaining what you are doing and why also helps patients to be knowledgeable about their care and feel safer with a student.


Stuff your pockets with nuts or granola because you frequently do not have a chance to sit down during your shift, and a quick handful of something can save the day. You will think more clearly and will be in a happier mood if you make sure that your body is well nourished.

Spend Time With Patients Nearing End-of-Life

If you find yourself in a situation with a patient nearing the end of his or her life, you should take the opportunity to spend extra time with this patient. It may be the most emotionally taxing situation you will ever experience; however, if you are there when they take their last breaths, this means more to the patient than you know. At times it may be difficult to process the situation, but you should take advantage of the support and guidance that preceptors provide during your clinical. In the future you will be able to provide the same support to your nursing coworkers if faced with a similar experience.

Do The Most Important Things For Your Patient

You're not always going to be able to do everything you would like to do for your patient, but you can do the most important things. This will show them you care about them and that they matter.

Don't Judge

Always try to see the patient's side of the story - don't judge anyone based on the opinions or perceptions of others.

Time management Is Important

Taking care of patients holistically can be a challenge because time management is so important and is such an influential factor in nursing. Time management is important, but it only takes a few minutes to talk to your patients and find out more about them.

Appreciate The Moment When Needed The Most

You will have good days and bad days and there will be patients who have good and bad days, but remember you are caring for patients at their most vulnerable moments and you should appreciate that you are a part of that moment when they (patients and families) are vulnerable and need your help.

Tell Your Co-Workers

Make sure other nurses on the floor know you're precepting and will be graduating soon - a lot of them will let you do different skills for them if they know you want more practice!

Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help

Be on time, fully assess each patient, ask questions, seek advice when you need help (don't be afraid to ask for help), and document, document, document!

Value Your Patients

Becoming a nurse means much more than starting IVs, pushing medications, and delegating care. Being a nurse means valuing each patient no matter the circumstance, and building positive relationships with colleagues in order to initiate change and save lives.

The above list based upon the contributions of four senior nursing students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill BSN Class of 2015:

Jaden Moore, Keoyona Ray, Kimyona Ray, Morgan Springer & Julia Winslow

I'm a pediatric emergency nurse of 12+ years and a clinical instructor for UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Nursing.

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5 Comment(s)

Well written and pretty cool that nursing students contributed. I am a senior (age) nursing student hopeful and this makes me feel better about what is coming. I have friends who have told me some real nightmare stories about preceptors, but it's been years since they were in school.

On a separate note, I would suggest not using your real name, picture, city of residence, ( assuming it is ).


Specializes in Pediatric Emergency & Nurse Education.

Thank you for your comment, and your concern. Actually I use my real name and pic on purpose bc I'm one of the allnurses,com writers. - so we want our writing to be under our real names, searchable , Etc.


Specializes in Occupational Health; Adult ICU.

I haven't a clue as to why the "not using your real name, picture, city of residence" perpetuates. Allnurses has links to Linkedin. Many, including myself pretty much have everything, photo, where I work, and email contact. I think that the "not use real name" is a thing of the past.

As for preceptors, though it's been over a decade, I've had two. One, named Rene was absolutely wonderful, a real gem who often held me close to the fire but pulled me out before I got burned and in ICU that's a real skill. The second caused me to leave ICU and no it wasn't me. On the very first night that I had this preceptor the Senior male ICU nurse said to me: "Oh, you're working with xxxxxxx now?" I said "Yup." He said: "how long." I looked down at my watch and smiled and said: "Oh, about 15 minutes." He responded: "Has she made you cry yet?"

Well, she never made me cry, cringe yes, but the short of it was that after a week I gave notice and quit that ICU though I loved the job. I've never met a person so mean and one night coming home I was so stressed I took my BP, it was 220/160. The next day I gave notice.

A preceptor can make or break a new nurse, it's as simple as that. And hat's off to those preceptors who give so much of themselves to help a new nurse. And be careful of preceptors where not one single penny is given to the preceptor for the extra work involved--and there IS extra work. Some places demand nurses do precepting and then do nothing to lighten that preceptor's load, and perhaps in some cases those forced into precepting do not make good ones.


Specializes in Pediatric Emergency & Nurse Education.

Thank you for your comments and story! Yes you are right - "bad" preceptors , or ones who eat their young, can be toxic to new nurses. I'm so sorry to hear about your experience.

Fortunately when nursing Students have preceptors , they also typically have clinical instructors who are assigned to them giving an additional level of protection for the students - and those CIs are supposed to help Ensure that when such toxic situations arise, they are "nipped in the bud" so to speak. More often , there may be a mismatch in personality types or teaching/learning styles - between preceptor a a preceptee- I've found that these types of issues can often be addressed and turned around to be opportunities , with early intervention, open communication and the proper university support.

And I agree that nobody should be forced to be a preceptor and that there should be some benefit to the ones who serve in this role! many hospitals offer indirect benefits thorough their clinical ladder programs.

Very well written! I agree with all of the points in the article, and the follow-up comments. I just finished my final semester, and am one week from graduating. I felt very fortunate in that my preceptor and I got along extremely well. Our styles seemed to compliment each others nicely. What I loved about precepting, is the relationship that gets built, and how each shift builds upon the last. Your preceptor knows where you're at every step of the way, and works with you on that level, really enhancing the learning process.