Mentoring Opportunities for Soon-to-Graduate Students: Experienced Nurses Prepare Students for the Real World
Posted: Nov. 18, 2013
As graduates of the UT Austin School of Nursing leave the classroom and head for careers in a variety of health-care settings, they are well prepared to meet the challenges of providing health care in the twenty-first century. In addition to excellent skills and leading-edge knowledge, they will have received hours of mentoring by seasoned nurses, who take them under their wing and into the clinical setting to obtain hands-on experience in the real world.
Mentoring, or precepting, isn’t new. For many years, experienced registered nurses have provided students with one-on-one assistance, instilling a confidence and compassion that could otherwise take new nurses years to develop. The School of Nursing is fortunate to have a number of such preceptors who spend at least 45 hours per semester with soon-to-graduate student nurses, showing them how to take book knowledge into real-life settings.
One of those is Margaret Taylor, PhD, RN and family nurse practitioner (FNP) at the People’s Community Clinic in Austin, who precepts advanced practice nurses (APNs). Because new FNPs will work with primary care and specialty physicians, clinical pharmacists, social workers, health educators and other health team members, they will need to learn how to ask patients focused clinical questions and how to consult with providers.
“Most APN students are already competent in nursing skills. The preceptor experience helps them get to the next level in their clinical practice,” she said. “As APNs they’ll have increased responsibility for prescription writing in the management of chronic health problems and need to be confident in their diagnostic skills and appropriate use of medications.”
Taylor tries to model what that looks and sounds like. She gives feedback when needed, but also hopes to demonstrate how much she loves her job. “Anyone thinking about becoming a preceptor should be enthusiastic,” she said. “They ought to like nursing and the work they do.”
It isn’t only students who grow from the experience. Preceptors are also learning and evolving. Once when she and a student were discussing the treatment plan for a patient with depression, Taylor said she was ready to write a prescription for medication when the student asked if she could work with the patient on developing deep-breathing exercises to reduce her stress level.
“It was good for me to get the student’s perspective. It reminded me what nurses bring to health care,” Taylor said. “She showed great skill and insight, and I let her know that.”
Because precepting helps students develop into the kind of nurses who can be effective members of the health-care team, it’s important to find the right people for that role. Ron Patterson, BSN, Master of Organizational Business, and director of inpatient care at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House, does that for the School of Nursing.
Patterson ensures that in addition to meeting the educational criteria — for example, to precept a student getting a Master of Science in Nursing, the preceptor must have at least an MSN — he matches students with preceptors who will be able to model professional and compassionate care. That’s why he looks for people with good habits and judgment and who also like to teach.
“The School of Nursing students I meet have the basics down and are often advanced in skills and knowledge,” he said. “But they may need help developing good judgment, such as knowing how to use the tools they have before calling a physician.”
To work in oncology — and in hospice in particular — students need to learn additional skills, he explained. “Most students have never experienced a dying patient, but in hospice, they will,” he said. “For that, they need a combination of a thick skin and great compassion.”
Today’s nurses are expected to play a significant part in strengthening the nation’s health-care system by contributing to the development, design and delivery of health care. That’s a tall order for most, but at UT Austin School of Nursing, preceptors stand alongside students to make this achievable.
“School knowledge is great, but students also need support,” Patterson added. “Without that, all the time and money spent on education could go by the wayside. Having a preceptor makes you more confident and competent.”