Being a Good Nurse Preceptor – What to Know

A preceptor is an experienced licensed nurse who supervises and teaches nursing students during their clinical rotations or new graduate nurses during orientation. These preceptors have several years of experience and are active employees in the healthcare setting and not direct employees of the school or university. 

Clinical nurse preceptors are crucial in nursing education to help prepare aspiring nurses. With the growing nursing shortage and the rise of online nursing programs, more preceptors are needed to help educators provide student nurses with hands-on experience in the hospital and other healthcare settings.

A preceptor’s responsibility is to facilitate student nurses’ translation of theoretical learning to clinical practice. All levels of nursing education need preceptors. This includes associate- and bachelor’s-prepared registered nurses, advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners, and even some doctoral degrees. Besides teaching future nurses, preceptors may also provide mentorship to students. New graduate nurses may have a nurse preceptor that helps orient them to the facility and makes the transition from student to professional much smoother. 

Who Can Be a Nurse Preceptor?

Anyone with an active nursing license in the state where the preceptorship will occur can be a preceptor. The nurse should be competent and have at least one year of experience. They should also practice in a specialty directly related to the specific clinical rotation. For instance, a clinical rotation in labor and delivery should have a preceptor that is knowledgeable in this field.

Besides having the relevant skills and credentialing, preceptors should have a passion for teaching. They should be enthusiastic about their work in nursing. And they should be able to offer positive and negative feedback in a constructive and empathetic way. Being a helpful preceptor takes a caring, competent, knowledgeable, and kind person.

Nurse preceptors use evidence-based practices to help novice nurses or nurses new to the unit. They establish learning objectives, teach hospital protocols, and encourage critical thinking. Although not required, nurses with master’s degrees in education typically make excellent preceptors. They have advanced training on effective forms of teaching. 

Preceptor Duties

The preceptor is responsible for bridging the nursing theory and clinical practice gap. They assist students in learning how to manage and provide patient care based on course objectives. One example is learning how to create a nursing care plan. Preceptors often orient students and novice nurses to the practice setting and institutional policies. Nurse preceptors supervise students on a one-to-one clinical basis for a specific period. They provide weekly feedback to the students and their professors.

They will review and co-sign any documentation made by the student in the electronic healthcare record. Lastly, preceptors serve as role models to nursing students and as a mentor to new nurses. It is their duty to act as the link between the new nurses and their department. They can help them better understand levels of care, policies, and procedures. Being a nurse preceptor is an asset. One study found that 17 and 30 percent of new nurses leave their job within the first year. Providing new nurses with a preceptor can avoid high stress levels and increase new nurse retention rates. 

Benefits of Being a Preceptor

Being a preceptor can benefit many individuals, including the nursing student, novice nurse, and even patients. The preceptor benefits by having an opportunity to give back to their profession. They can pay it forward as their own previous preceptors had. Preceptors are playing an important role in solving the nationwide nursing shortage. 

Unfortunately, many nursing schools turn away hundreds of qualified candidates each year due to not having enough preceptors to accommodate clinical placements. Precepting is a flexible role, so the nurse can participate in it either short- or long-term.

Another benefit of being a preceptor is it allows them to reconnect with their passion for nursing. Helping others is an effective way to reduce burnout. Having a nursing student to mentor may bring a new sense of fervor and motivation to the workplace. Additionally, the student or novice nurse can support the preceptor in carrying out patient-care duties. Precepting enhances nursing practice by reinforcing knowledge when explaining clinical reasoning to students.

Preceptorship is also a great way to develop leadership skills. It allows the preceptor to improve communication skills, practice accountability for healthcare delivery and outcomes, and manage and delegate tasks. It can enhance their resume and strengthen their professional experience. Preceptors can have a remarkable impact on health outcomes because they establish work culture norms when orienting novice or transfer nurses. Teaching new nurses the “right way” to do things can help prevent medical errors and improve patient outcomes.

Precepting demonstrates their willingness to lead and commitment to lifelong learning. Beneficially, some certifications or licenses, such as the nurse practitioner certification renewal, allows NPs to apply up to 120 clinical preceptor hours towards their continuing education requirement. Becoming affiliated with a school nursing program may provide the preceptor with complimentary access to research databases and opportunities to network with instructors.

How to be a Good Nurse Preceptor

The ideal preceptor has the knowledge, skills, and personality necessary to teach novice nurses effectively. It is imperative that nurse preceptors are confident in their ability to make decisions and provide holistic nursing care. They should hold a high level of expertise in clinical care, especially in their field. 

There is a gap between what is taught in nursing school and what actually happens in a clinical setting. Thus, the preceptor’s responsible for filling the void by modeling competency of care, instructing, and reassuring novice or student nurses. Preceptors should understand the science behind learning theories and apply these theories in an understandable way. They can help student nurses understand when and how to use a new skill.

To be successful as a nurse preceptor, they should stay positive and offer constructive criticism. They should motivate and inspire the nurses they are precepting. They must show empathy by providing feedback without being condescending or judgmental. Good nurse preceptors can delegate responsibly, give orders politely but firmly, and answer questions succinctly. They should provide learning opportunities and allow students or new nurses to make mistakes so they can learn from them.

Great communication skills are ideal in this role. A suitable nurse preceptor must remain objective. They should be level-headed and not take it personally if a student nurse fails. They should be open to constructive commentary. The preceptor may also make mistakes and must admit they are wrong. They ought to model the behavior they want to see in their nursing team. On the other hand, the preceptor should offer praise when the student nurse exceeds expectations. This creates a positive work and learning environment.

The nurse preceptor should be personable. It can be overwhelming or lonely to be a novice nurse, so having a friendly and approachable mentor is essential for new nurses. A preceptor coaching a student or novice nurse should inspire the nurse to commit to their position. Good preceptors are open to questions, engaged, patient, and understanding. They are also emotionally intelligent.

Preceptors model professional behavior. They show a concern for the welfare of others, are autonomous, and practice following ethics and standards. They practice social justice, which is fair treatment for all. Consequently, the student or novice nurse can learn how to become a patient advocate.

Successful preceptors can identify individual learning styles and apply teaching strategies to best fulfill that need. The nurse preceptor and the learner must discuss expectations and provide feedback. Evaluation is an ongoing process that improves the quality of the educational experience. Nurse preceptors evaluate clinical competence and document learning progress. They teach and demonstrate time management, priority setting, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Effective preceptors illustrate powerful interpersonal skills, such as conflict management, collaboration, and communication.

Clinical preceptors may provide visionary leadership and a change mindset. They facilitate working with people and teams. In addition, they keep people determined and focused. A preceptor has the ability to develop others. This depends on their professional expertise, ability to create strong working relationships, and communication skills. Communication between a preceptor and student nurse should be open, honest, and reciprocal. And it should include both formal and informal conversations. 

Conclusion: Becoming a Nurse Preceptor

A nurse preceptor’s role is to support, teach, and be a nurse mentor to student or novice nurses. They should guide the student in creating a nursing care plan, prioritizing care, and staying organized. Through the preceptorship program, the novice nurse will expand the vital skills needed to care for patients and be able to care for multiple patients simultaneously. They will also gain the confidence to recognize critical patients and when to intervene and feel empowered to advocate for these patients. As a result, the novice nurse can effectively communicate with patients, family members, and other staff.

Sophia Khawly, MSN

Sophia Khawly, MSN


Sophia Khawly is a traveling nurse practitioner from Miami, Florida. She has been a nurse for 14 years and has worked in nine different states. She likes to travel in her spare time and has visited over 40 countries. Being a traveling nurse practitioner allows her to combine her love of learning, travel, and serving others. Learn more about Sophia at