When the Preceptor’s Attitude Is a New Nurse’s Biggest Challenge

March 12, 2014

FirstPreceptorIllustrationHere’s the start of “My First Preceptor,” the Reflections essay in the March issue of AJN.

“Manage your day,” she told me, not for the first time, as if it had been my fault that one patient crashed yesterday just as my second one returned from surgery with a new set of orders. I could not be in two places at once, keeping track of two critical patients, making sure each one received the care she needed at the moment she needed it.

A new critical care nurse has a lot to worry about. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even when you’re actually doing a pretty good job. A preceptor can play a crucial role in helping a new nurse find her or his footing. As one might expect, however, some good nurses are not good preceptors. In this essay, the author describes her struggles to deal with the time pressures of her new job, along with her preceptor’s constant admonitions and disapproval.

This fraught nurse–preceptor relationship reaches a crisis point against a backdrop of life and death struggles. I won’t try to summarize what happens in the essay, since different readers may interpret it differently, depending on experience and temperament. But it’s definitely worth a read.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

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  1. I appreciate the subtleties in this true story. The author captures the preceptor’s short-comings (OK–her outright nastiness), and at the same time captures the preceptor’s strengths in the moment of crisis. I’d like to think that while these two nurses responded to that crisis both of them may have been learning something? The preceptor probably wouldn’t admit that, and will probably going on “eating the young,” but you never know. . .


  2. When I was in nursing school, I could believe some of the nurses. They were mean and nasty! But I was blessed to have great preceptors as a new nurse.


  3. I am horrified by the behavior of the so-called preceptor. I certainly hope that the new nurse scheduled a meeting with her nurse manager to discuss the situation and, perhaps, ask for a new preceptor. The behavior is typical of bullies and we do not need them in nursing. I can not call the preceptor a good nurse – given her attitude with the patient’s husband.


  4. I have been in nursing 38 years and have seen some utterly horrid “mentors.” Still very much eating our young.


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