Contrary to nursing legend, preceptors aren’t villains. They want you to succeed, and, if given the chance, could be your best advocate. After all, most of them have volunteered for the job or have been identified by their manager as the type of person who would be able to help you best. When preceptor-new nurse relationships get to the point of intervention, it’s not always the preceptor’s fault . . . really. Sometimes, new nurses shut out their preceptor, saying things that demonstrate they don’t want help, don’t need help, or don’t want to work at all.
Kim Rapper, RN, a preceptor for many years, tells you what not to say to your preceptor so that your relationship stays healthy and beneficial to you:
1. “I already know how to do that.”
The know-it-all attitude—and cutting off your preceptor in the midst of instruction—will keep you from learning all you can. You don’t know it all, not even the most seasoned nurse does. Even if you’ve seen a procedure done 102 times, you can benefit from the reiteration. Every preceptor, even if his/her personality drives you crazy, has insights from which you can benefit. And if you listen and watch closely, you may pick up some simple strategy to master the skills you already possess. So, don’t shut your preceptor out, and be open to new ways of doing things.
2. “I can’t do this!”
Most preceptors appreciate when a new nurse admits they don’t know how to do something. But don’t say, “I can’t.” It’s not the right word, because you will be doing it by the end of the orientation. Saying “I can’t” suggests you don’t care to learn.
Instead, say, “I don’t know how to do this yet. I need your help.” This demonstrates a willingness to learn. And it is completely appropriate; your preceptor needs to be in the room watching, helping, and coaching. No one should be doing something they feel they can’t do or have never done before. It’s in those instances that a good preceptor will be able to push you—so, ultimately, you will be able to fly on your own.
3. “Did you hear what so-and-so said?”
Cattiness and gossip are never appropriate. It’s okay for a nurse to say to a preceptor, “I don’t feel comfortable with so-and-so nurse.” But to come out and say things like, “Did you hear what so-and-so did?” chips away at your professional demeanor. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay for there to be differences. However, when your priority shifts from quality patient care to the “Who’s Who” network, there is a problem. New nurses need to be socialized appropriately, and many preceptors take on that responsibility by inviting new nurses out to lunch and introducing them to the physicians. This needs to happen more frequently. If preceptors don’t socialize new nurses into their peer group in a professional manner, then cattiness takes over.
4. “If you don’t put me on the day shift, I’m going to quit!”
We had a new graduate make this demand. And, as you know, it’s an unrealistic one. New nurses are low on the totem pole, so expect to work the hard shifts. Most new grads start on the night shift; day shifts come with seniority. When you sign a contract, you’re agreeing to work any shift. So it’s shocking to me that new grads start making demands when this is what they’ve signed up for. However, if you are struggling with the night shift, seek support and advice from your preceptor on how to make nights work for the short-term; she’s been there. Also remember that if you want to pick and choose your shifts, you have to stick with your hospital. At many hospitals, seniority is rewarded. That’s why I’ve stayed with the hospital I started with; now, more often than not, I get the shifts I request.
5. “I’d rather be doing…”
Once I heard a new grad frequently and freely talk about changing her career—because nursing was “beneath” her aspirations. If nursing isn’t what you expected, you’ve got to discuss that with your preceptor. But don’t waste your time, or your preceptor’s time, if you know you’re not going to stick with it. Nursing demands passion and a stick-with-it attitude.
6. “I’m doing it just for the money.”
These types are called appliance nurses. I made a commitment to myself when I was in nursing school that I would never keep doing this if it became just a job. That may not be something that everyone can do. But if you find you are seeing your job just as a paycheck, then maybe you need to take a step back. That may mean dumping some of your expectations of yourself. Or maybe you need to pursue activities that recharge you. For instance, I dabble in graphic arts, which rejuvenates me. When I go back to work, I do my nursing job much better because I want to, not because I’m locked in. I’ve learned you need to be able to do this job for the right reasons: to give the best possible patient care and make a difference in people’s lives.