Choose wisely when selecting a nurse preceptor

Nurse Manager Website, July 5, 2004

The success of your preceptorship program is highly dependent on the selection and training of qualified preceptors. That's why it's important to clearly establish the selection criteria.

Here are some suggested criteria that your preceptor candidate should demonstrate:

  • Expresses desire to serve in the role of preceptor
  • Has education commensurate with the preceptor role (e.g., bachelor's degree, critical-care certificate, etc.)
  • Is employed on the nursing unit; assigned for at least two years
  • Has no negative evaluative performance criteria in the past year
  • Has all unit competencies/annual education requirements up to date
  • Serves on a professional practice committee
  • Has no planned extended vacation periods during the preceptorship period
  • Possesses a clear understanding of his or her duties and acts as a role model for professional nursing practices
  • Is able to apply nursing theory in the workplace

An application process that involves a checklist approach to the above criteria will ensure that you select only the most qualified preceptors.

In addition to unit preceptors, also consider identifying assistant preceptors who may fill in when the preceptor has other obligations or in the case that he or she has an unexpected illness or absence.

Attracting quality nurses who will take on the additional responsibilities that come with preceptorship may require offering some incentives.

Researchers have found that the amount of recognition and reward given to a preceptor directly reflects the value that healthcare institutions place on nursing clinical excellence and new nurse retention.

The following are some possible incentives:

  • Hourly wage differential during the preceptorship period
  • Fixed bonus pay at the end of the preceptorship period
  • Reimbursement for attending a regional continuing education program
  • Reimbursing tuition costs for courses taken toward a degree
  • Preceptor/preceptee recognition meal
  • Article in the institution newsletter
  • Cross appointment (e.g., adjunct professor position) with the academic institution providing nursing students to the program

Positive reinforcement is critical if the preceptor is to continue in this expanded and demanding role.

Decision time
To make a decision from among the preceptor program applicants, review the characteristics that an ideal nursing preceptor possesses:

  • Knowledge-of the policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and care practices of the institution.
  • Skill-at performing the technical aspects of the position. The ability to model excellence in nursing practice and not taking short cuts ensures that the preceptor is respected by the preceptee.
  • Ability-to integrate knowledge and skill into daily interactions in the healthcare environment.
  • Good attitude-to be willing to use that knowledge, skill, and ability all the time.

Also, ensure that your candidate is organized, resourceful, can adapt easily to change, can identify learning opportunities, and can communicate clearly by making and receiving constructive comments.

Source: Nurse Preceptor Program Builder: Tools for a Successful Preceptor Program, by Brian Rogers, RN, BSc, CCRN, DHA, EMT-HP. HCPro, Inc.