Improve Your Retention With a Preceptor Program

As a nurse recruiter, finding new nurses who fit your organization can be an arduous process.

When you do find just the right fit, the next challenge is making sure your perfect hires stay.

One way to improve the odds your new hires remain at your organization is to start a preceptor program.

For many healthcare systems and facilities, a preceptor program is an invaluable part of the onboarding process.

This is because when new nurses leave, the process causes a hit to the bottom line and could lead to fewer staffing options.

Let’s define the preceptor role

Preceptors are experienced nurses who are passionate about sharing their knowledge and ensuring the next generation is well-prepared to take on clinical challenges.

In a preceptor program, you educate about the best practices of your organization and the nuances of caring for patients.

Preceptors use adept communication skills, a passion for the profession and even a little humor to build a strong bond with the nurses they take under their wings.

Another major benefit of a preceptor program is that it can reveal the next wave of leaders on your nursing team.

How to start a preceptor program

Recognizing the best teachers on your staff is a great place to begin. Look for caring, judgement-free nurses who have exemplary communication skills and self-confidence.

Other skills to take into consideration when picking preceptors include:

  • Compassion: New nurses will make mistakes. The value of a preceptor is being able to coach a new colleague when a mistake occurs to ensure it won’t happen again.

  • Communication: Being able to explain a hospital’s policy, a unit’s best practices or a physician’s quirks takes deft skill. A preceptor may have to do all of the above and even soothe a new nurse’s doubts or fears. According to the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, one helpful tactic for preceptors is to “think out loud” while going about their work. This way, new nurses can hear an experienced colleague’s thought process.

  • Patience: New nurses are encouraged to ask questions — and some will ask many questions. You can build an orientee’s confidence and clinical competencies by making them feel like a valued member of the unit.

  • Role modeling: Just as a young soccer player imitates her favorite Olympic hero, new nurses will follow your lead. So let your professionalism shine through, and be the example who new nurses can emulate.

  • Evaluation: Preceptors must be able to review a new nurse’s performance and provide both positive feedback and constructive criticism to foster a colleague’s growth. Provide a full suite of tools and resources to make them successful to take on any challenge or situation.

  • Support: Be sure to reinforce things that go well, such as handling a difficult family member or quickly meeting a patient’s needs. Be someone else’s biggest cheerleader. Preceptors shouldn’t be afraid to share their own successes and failures with a new nurse to make the experiences relatable.

  • Thoroughness: At the beginning of the preceptor program relationship — just like at the beginning of a shift — a new nurse should understand the goals and objectives that are to be met.

  • Relationship building: Though there might be an age difference or a variance in educational backgrounds, preceptors are tasked with finding common ground with their orientee to ensure a positive learning environment.

  • Listening: Just as a nurse pays close attention to a patient who shares his or her health history, those skills can pay dividends when a new nurse shares questions and concerns.

  • Safety focused: Safe patient care is the standard for all healthcare professionals. From medication to lifting patients and beyond, safety is a very important lesson for preceptors to share.