The key to being an amazing preceptor to a new graduate nurse is to always remember what it’s like to be a brand new nurse. The idea that “nurses eat their young,” if true, is neither helpful to the new nurse nor to the patients that they care for. Starting a new job is stressful enough, so facing untoward behavior from a preceptor or new colleagues only further discourages the new nurse, and potentially hinders their skills development and patient care. Here are seven ways to be an amazing preceptor and support new nurses and their patients.
1. Assume they don’t know.
One of the most problematic instances between preceptors
and new nurses is
the preceptor’s assumption that the new nurse knows something they don’t. This
could involve speaking in jargon specific to a specialty, teaching complex
skills without a basic understanding, or delegating tasks to a preceptee that
they are not capable of carrying out. Keep in mind that no matter how many
hours the new nurse spent in clinical, learning to be a nurse and being a nurse
are two very different things. Use language that a layperson could understand
and explain terminology in a non-patronizing way before using it.
2. Answer questions objectively.
Even if a new nurse asks a question that seems too
elementary, never express judgment or criticism toward them for asking. The
last thing a patient needs is a nurse who is too frightened to ask questions
for fear of being ridiculed. It is essential to every nurse’s growth that they
learn and practice in an environment that supports their learning and
3.Address the social atmosphere.
While the main role of the preceptor is to teach, observe, and assess a new nurse’s aptitude for working independently, it is also worthwhile to discuss the culture of the organization they work in and how to thrive in it. For example, if a boss is very lenient about swapping assignments but strict about tardiness, this is worth divulging to the new nurse. Some hospitals have policies about taking breaks that are interpreted very differently in each unit. Sharing this information with a preceptee could save them the potential embarrassment of breaking an unwritten rule. This would also further reinforce the idea that they are supported by their predecessors. Nurses who like the place they work and who trust their colleagues are generally better nurses.
4. Encourage work/life balance.
While it is not necessary to exchange personal details, it is worthwhile to encourage the new nurse to take care of themselves appropriately in their work. Many new nurses are so frightened when they start working, they may not want to ask where the restrooms are, where they can get a glass of water, or when lunch is for fear of seeming uninterested in the content of their training. One of the first activities any amazing preceptor should do with their new trainee is take them on a tour of the unit and show them the facilities available to them. Encourage the new nurse to speak up if they need to use them. Nurses who go without do not make better nurses.
5. “See one, do one, teach one.”
Having a simple outline for training a preceptee such as “see one, do one, teach one,” allows the trainee to fortify and demonstrate their understanding. Many new nurses find that their preceptors allow them to do too much, or not enough. Neither are optimal for allowing the nurse to practice new skills with the fundamental understanding to back it up. Showing the new nurse a skill, then having them perform it, and then having them teach it gives them understanding, skill practice, and a test of their complete understanding. Many hospitals now require nurses to complete documentation for each skill. “See one, do one, teach one,” is an effective way to work through training and skill assessment.
6. Don’t be afraid to pass on precepting.
Just as not every preceptor is made equal, so too with every
new nurse. If a preceptor finds that they cannot establish a positive
rapport with a new nurse or vice versa, they are empowered to request a
switch. If interactions between the preceptor and new nurse are not
founded on mutual understanding, the training will likely not be
optimal. Similarly, if a nurse has been inundated with precepting and
needs to take time between training nurses, they should honor that. A new
nurse would likely benefit more from a preceptor who can be enthusiastic about
7. Be open to new nurses’ observations and feedback.
Many nurses who have been in a job for a long time take for
granted the state of things without question. If a new nurse points out a
policy or system that seems ineffective or inefficient, it is worth considering
that it is coming from a fresh pair of eyes. Even if the temptation is
there to criticize the
nurse for being presumptuous or idealistic, consider the
value of a new nurse who is so enthusiastic about their work that they are
willing to critically think about ways to improve.
No experienced nurse got to where they are without a beginning. Ask the best nurses how they got to where they are and they will likely credit a preceptor who believed in them and pushed them to be their best. Any nurse can be an amazing preceptor, as long as they have an attitude of both compassion and tact in which a new nurse can thrive.
We know firsthand what it’s like to be a parent to a millennial nurse. My millennial daughter is married to a travel nurse. They are out living the dream in their “tiny house” on wheels with a beautiful cream-colored golden retriever named Arlo. Jennifer, a nurse herself for 43 years, is a mother to a millennial travel nurse living the good life in California. We each understand the challenges of raising millennials and the challenges of keeping millennials engaged within your organization.
Millennials have a different view of the world than previous generations. Gauging what’s important to them and how to keep them engaged can be daunting. According to the Advisory Board, engagement for a millennial is not a predictive index of intent to stay with a company. Most people think engagement equals loyalty. This is not the case with the millennial nurse. The millennial nurses of today have witnessed their parents go through the ‘great recession’ where they witnessed their parents struggle as loyalty was thrown aside by their employer. The millennial nurse enters the nursing profession with student debt unseen in other generations, creating the desire to move ahead financially to pay down these debts. The millennial nurse is technologically savvy and enjoys being intellectually challenged in new ways; they will resist outdated training and onboarding methods. The millennial nurse also prefers a set schedule, so they can plan their “experiences,” which is more important to them than owning a big house or a nice car.
As professionals in the health care industry and parents to millennial nurses, we suggest switching engagement tactics to drive loyalty from millennials. Deciphering what engagement tactics will work is not as complicated as it sounds. Our best advice: think like a parent and be open to trying out our several tactics below.
Provide a platform for opinions
Millennial nurses want to have input on some issues and appreciate when their opinions are valued. This makes millennials great contenders for a shared governance model. Giving millennial nurses ownership over projects allows them to have a voice in their practice. During staff meetings, millennial nurses have the opportunity to provide input and voice their opinions on the projects that they own. Their peers also have the chance to give feedback, so that the nurse feels valued and respected.
Giving the nurse decision-making influence sets them up for future career advancement and anchors them to the organization.
Understand the environment millennials have grown up in and adapt
As mentioned previously, millennials are burdened with student loan debt more than any other generation before. The average student loan debt for Class of 2017 graduates was $39,400. Given this financial pressure, millennials are looking to advance more quickly in their careers to earn a salary that will offset the added loan payments. Due to the impracticality of quick career advancement, millennials will often take alternative routes in nursing such as travel assignments to earn more money faster.
Since millennials are flocking toward travel nursing, it’s essential to offer bonuses and paths to career advancement within your organization to get them to commit.
Get rid of formal critiques and establish mentorship programs
Millennials also prefer coaching or mentoring over formal critiques and reviews. Constructive criticism is the preferred method of addressing concerns and improvement among employees. However, millennials are more open to receiving feedback from an ally—someone who is championing for their success.
A well-matched nurse preceptor has much power in determining the loyalty of a millennial nurse. Nurse preceptors have the responsibility to address any concerns of the millennial nurse and offer guidance to any problems. This role requires a lot of empathy and intuition to establish a relationship of trust and mentorship among millennial nurses.
Ask what’s important to them
Asking a simple question could be the defining line of what determines a millennial nurse’s decision to stay with an organization. Ask these types of questions in one-on-one meetings with your nurse:
- What is most important to your job satisfaction here?
- What are your career goals?
- How can I help you achieve them?
- What type of recognition do you like to receive?
- What is one thing I can do today to make your work more enjoyable?
Asking these questions will show a millennial nurse that you are committed to their success and happiness. They, in turn, will commit to you and the organization if they know you have their best interests in mind.
Tailoring engagement tactics to bring forth loyalty does not have to be a significant project, nor will it require extra time. Following the above guidelines and tracking retention will provide a great baseline to see if your millennial nurses become more committed to the organization.
To help combat the stress of nursing school, the Student Nurses’ Association (SNA) at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) created a Transitions Mentorship Program which is in its third semester. The student-run organization immerses GVSU nursing students into the medical world through presentations, group meetings, and hands-on activities.
Jamie Platt, president of the GVSU SNA chapter, tells Lanthorn.com, “The idea behind the program is to empower our new student nurses. SNA believes that creating a strong environment through positive peer-student relationships during the beginning of nursing school will allow new students to feel confident during a vulnerable time in the nursing program.”
The Transitions program pairs lower-level nursing students with upper-level students so they can meet and discuss topics in their major and receive tips for studying for nursing exams. It offers students someone to lean on while studying in an intensive program.
GVSU’s student nurse association decided to incorporate the mentorship program based on student feedback. Many older nursing students reported the struggles they went through and wished they had had someone to help them through the program. GVSU’s nursing program is comprised of five semesters, so students in their first or second semester are paired with a student in their third, fourth, or fifth semester.
Students in the mentorship program are required to meet five times per semester and are encouraged to meet biweekly. After meeting, the mentors report back on their conversations, many of which have revolved around clinical work which makes up half of the students’ time so that they can practice skills they learn in the classroom.
The program has received positive feedback thus far, making a positive impact on students. Many students feel the mentorship program helps them feel more confident and less apprehensive about future semesters. To learn more about GVSU’s student nurse mentorship program, visit here.