As summer rolls around, August-graduating nursing classes are coming up on preceptor season. The wonderfully unknown and unpredictable season when sleep is lacking and your calendar is changing quicker than you can update it. So how does one land in a specialty area like the ED, NICU, or CVICU as a nursing student who just started an IV for the first time less than a year ago?
First things first. Figure out how your school determines placement—and figure it out soon. You can never be too early. Find out your first semester how your HESI scores, grades, and clinical comments can play a role in your last semester so you can set reasonable, achievable goals for your nursing school career.
Second, ask yourself, “what is the perfect preceptorship?” This is your opportunity to get a feel for what is a good fit for you. Maybe you want to try night shifts for the first time. Maybe you think OB is your calling, but you only had one clinical day in postpartum. Don’t shy away from specialties. Your preceptorship is a valuable time when you can observe, get one-on-one training, and make an impression on nurse managers. Be brave. Be open to trying anything you think you might be interested in doing. Do consider the hospital location, shift hours, and nursing staff. If it is a clinical site you’ve been to, were the nurses busy and stressed? Were they helpful and understanding?
Once you figure out what your school requires and where you want to go, the focus shifts to clinical impression and school requirements. Most schools use the HESI exams to determine qualification. At the University of North Florida, the minimum “exit” or comprehensive HESI score is 850. If your school uses HESI, consider purchasing the book titled Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination, which includes an access code with over 700 questions. The NCLEX RN Mastery App (which frequently goes on sale for $14.99) is also an excellent tool for on-the-go. Consider a study goal of one chapter per week and 20 questions on the app per day. The app can be utilized in between sets at the gym, while in line at the grocery store, and even while you brush your teeth. Get creative and spread out your study time. Before you know it, you’ll reach your daily study goal (which the app conveniently records for you).
While you’re at clinical, keep in mind that those around you will remember you if you set the right impression. Introduce yourself to the nurse managers. Don’t be afraid to tell them you enjoyed your experience and your graduation date. Ask for advice on what their unit looks for in a student. While introducing yourself to the nurse manager is an excellent way to plant a seed in the right soil, don’t forget to always be respectful to all of the staff. One of the best conversations I had with a group of nurses was about nursing students who just nod their head yes when the nurse explains something and how the nurses really weren’t sure if they were just nodding or if they were retaining and understanding. Go a step further by asking a follow-up question or repeating the information back to the nurse. Some of the best teachers I found in the clinical setting were the paramedics!
Finally, it would be unrealistic to expect every student to land a specialty position. Know that even if there aren’t adequate spots or you don’t qualify, you still have the ability to utilize your preceptorship to its full potential. This may be the time to try a night or weekend shift. Find out if you can rank the nearby facilities and have a preference of which medical-surgical unit you’re placed on.
Remember, your preceptorship has the potential to result in a job offer that could ultimately become your career. Plan ahead, set goals, be aware, and have a voice. This is your last chance as a student to get experience, ask questions, and get comfortable in the hospital setting.