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Take Responsibility for Your Precepting Relationship
4 bits of advice before you ditch your preceptor.

Fight or flight. It’s the choice we’re given when faced with a difficult situation. When it comes to a failing precepting relationship, most new nurses choose the latter—and want to scrap their preceptor for a new-and-improved model. Kim Rapper, RN, BSN and a veteran preceptor, says to listen up: Your preceptor won’t be perfect, and you probably will have some conflicts. But that doesn’t mean you should ditch your preceptor. In fact, there are specific actions you can take to ensure your precepting relationship is a success. Here read Rapper’s advice:

Take a Hard Look at Yourself

When your relationship with your preceptor is a flop, be mature and take a hard look at yourself first. Don’t run and complain to your manager without considering how you are contributing to the negativity in the relationship. After a little soul-searching, you may realize that there are some things you can do to improve the relationship.

Maybe you need to communicate your questions more intelligently and clearly. Maybe you never fully understood your preceptor’s expectations, and you need to ask for clarification. Maybe you’re too beholden to the “this is how we did it in school” attitude and need to embrace your preceptor’s recommendations. Or maybe you need to stop interpreting your preceptor’s critique as a personal attack—and receive it as it is intended: to help you become a better nurse.

The bottom line: You may be part of the problem, and it’s a lot easier to take responsibility for your actions than to harbor expectations that someone else should and will change theirs.

Go Directly To Your Preceptor…with an Open Mind

If you continue to have problems with your preceptor—even after you take an honest look at your behavior and make appropriate adjustments—then take the next brave step of communicating your issues directly to your preceptor.  So you don’t make sweeping generalizations at your meeting with your preceptor, consider documenting specific instances when you experienced negative feedback. And when you do launch your complaints, make sure they are presented in a non-accusatory way. Say, “Can you help me understand so-and-so situation?” or “I feel like I’m not learning when such-and-such happens…”

Your preceptor may not even know that she has offended you or created a bad working environment. And a good preceptor will want to explain her actions and, if necessary, rectify the situation. But go in with an open mind—your preceptor may point out some of your blind spots.  While it might be painful to hear, the critique might help you understand your preceptor’s expectations and help you mature as a professional. It could be one of your greatest learning opportunities.

Accept That Your Preceptor Isn’t Going to Be Your Best Friend

In the professional world, you’re not always going to work with people whom you’d choose to be friends with outside of work. Nevertheless, some new nurses look for a warm-fuzzy friendship with their preceptor. And when there is a personality clash, they immediately want to request a change.

The fact is you and your preceptor might be opposites. You might be vivacious; she might be insipid. You might be intuitive; she might be imperceptive. You might be passive; she might be confrontational. You might like routine; she might like variety. You might be cautious in your speech; she might be blunt.

The case may be that you and your preceptor won’t ever be BFFs (best friends forever), but you can still maintain a professional rapport. And you can improve the relationship simply by being receptive to your preceptor’s strengths. Sure, she might be blunt, but she is a fount of knowledge.  As your focus shifts from your preceptor’s shortcomings to strengths, your first weeks on the job won’t be completely unbearable. In fact, by the end of the precepting experience, you may even come to understand—and respect—your preceptor, despite your differences.

If All Else Fails…

If you make every possible attempt to rectify the relationship but still find it is not conducive to learning, then take your complaints to your nurse manager/educator. Let him/her know the steps you’ve taken to improve the relationship, demonstrating you’re professionalism and commitment. Then be prepared to give specific examples of what you need in a preceptor and why your current precepting relationship is failing you. Ultimately, the hospital needs you to gain confidence and knowledge during this period so that you will be an effective member of the team—and with a “bad” preceptor, you certainly won’t. With the right information, your nurse manger/educator can get you the coach you need to be a success your first year.

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