I had the opportunity to precept a nursing student this month and I thought it would be a perfect blog post to share with you all, from my perspective as a nurse, and that as a student who not too long ago completed the preceptorship process myself. As it turns out, both parties have a lot to teach, a lot to learn, and a lot in common.
Here are six things I learned from my precepting experience.
1. I am tired.
No matter how hard I tried to be wide awake and energetic for my student, I realized I am just exhausted. My life is exhausting, my job is exhausting, and frankly, my student is exhausting. Lesson to be had from this slew of exhaust: space out your days when precepting a student. There are sacrifices to be made when precepting, and giving up the 3 on, 4 off perfect schedule is one worth making. The weeks where I was 2 on, 2 off, 1 on were refreshing for both my student and myself, even if we had different patients. In all reality, my student needed more variety in patient load anyhow, so it’s a win-win.
So, if you’re shadowing me and I’m visibly exhausted, hold me accountable! Don’t let me slack on teaching, but do realize there are times when you can use your resources to look things up, too. Sometimes I just need my morning coffee, too, so don’t worry if at 6:35 am I’m not bright eyed and bushy tailed—I’ll get there by 9, I promise!
2. I will never get to bed “early.”
All that being said, I will not and cannot get into bed as early as I wish every night. I definitely have my nights where I go to town and make it happen, but that’s not going to be every night before precepting, and that’s OK. I spent so much time beating myself up about not getting into bed early enough and not packing my lunch ahead of time so I could get more sleep that I could’ve just been taking a power nap. Chances are, students probably don’t go to bed before midnight, either.
3. I’m not that smart, and I probably won’t ever be, and that’s OK.
Nope. I don’t know. I don’t know the obscure gene correlation between the microorganism and its vectors or whatever mumbo jumbo there is to know. But you can absolutely ask! Please ask me, but please don’t judge me when I don’t know! Let’s look it up together and learn together. I would be a bad nurse if I told you I knew every single thing.
Further, quite honestly, there is nothing worse than a know-it-all, and we all know that. When you come into work with the idea that you know more than me, need to teach me, and want to point out in rounds that you know more than me, it just turns me off to teaching. I do believe you really know more than me and have lots to teach me, just remember that there is a time and a place for everything. Let’s have a “think through” discussion where we sit down and get a break, instead of debating in front of a family. Even a healthy debate about medical treatment can come across as inconsistency and lack of confidence to a family who doesn’t know the terms that we’re speaking about.
You are smart—this I know—but I am also here to teach you about my experiences, and that I do have more of, so allow me to help you put all of your awesome knowledge into clinical experience, too!
4. I make a lot of mistakes. And I don’t enjoy having those pointed out to me.
So if I dial up the IV pump for 35 ml instead of 36 ml, please don’t say so very dramatically in front of the patient or the patient’s parents. Instead, calmly remind me when we step to the side or calmly suggest adding an ml to the pump. If I make an urgent mistake please tell me immediately, but handle all with caution. Patients, especially children, pick up on the mood in the room. If you look worried, they will too. Confidently and calmly reminding me is a good way to keep everything under control.
5. I should’ve taken it easy on my teachers when they didn’t sign that form in 24 hours.
Let me tell you, it’s hard. I already get 15 emails a day from work, and when I get another email asking me to sign and fax a form, sometimes it just gets lost in the virtual pile. Don’t be afraid to remind me, and please be forgiving! I would prefer to be asked about these things while I’m at work, but if I’ve forgotten something you need immediately, you can absolutely reach out when I’m not at work. I would double check this with all of your preceptors, though, to make sure they are comfortable with being reached off the clock. Point being, it’s never malicious if we forget to respond to your email, forget to fill out your paperwork, or sign a form. That being said, there’s nothing worse than waiting till the last minute to hand it all to me and tell me it’s due tomorrow!
6. Learn, learn, learn. . .and then learn some more.
The experiences you’ll have as a student, a new graduate nurse, or an intern are some of the best experiences. We intentionally put you with patients that present learning opportunities. So please take them and love them! Your day isn’t over at 7 pm; you should go home and look up 3 things you didn’t know—just 3! Don’t study medical textbooks for hours on end, but google things, read opinions, read facts. In nursing we don’t always have to know down to the microbe, but we need to know the big picture. Ask yourself: Could I teach a parent how to feed through a g-tube? Could I explain necrotizing enterocolitis to a friend? Save the specifics for nursing school exams; focus on learning how all of the systems work together and the bigger picture when you’re at clinicals or with your preceptor. Always ask yourself why while you’re learning. Why are we doing this? Why does this child have this condition? Why is the doctor changing this order? Try to look things up on your own when you can, or ask me while we are charting or breaking!
Overall, having a student is an awesome experience. It is refreshing to have such a bright, eager mind, it is humbling to have someone remind you that you’re not that far from when you were a new grad, either, and it’s invigorating to watch your student grow and succeed. I am happy to have you, but every student has a different learning style and that takes me time to learn, too. Be patient with me, be kind to me, and let’s conquer this together. Understand that I’m human too—I get stressed, overwhelmed, and tired, too. With open communication we will be able to get to know each other and grow together!
Stay tuned next week for Precepting, Part 2: Inside the Student Experience for my perspective as a student!