Students of nursing draw their knowledge and skills from a variety of sources, including lectures, seminars, self-study and clinical placements. One of the most valuable ways they gain expertise is through their clinical preceptor.
A clinical preceptor is an experienced and highly educated nurse, who teaches, supervises, guides and supports students under their care. Preceptors who have already trodden the path their students are taking and who have committed to furthering their own education and knowledge offer many benefits to student nurses. Those who have gained a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) are particularly well-qualified as preceptors, having deepened their knowledge of nursing through this type of postgraduate course.
In this article, we’re going to look at the benefits that DNP-prepared nurses offer by serving as clinical preceptors to nursing students. We’ll also explore the pathway to earning a doctor of nursing practice degree and learn more about this fascinating option.
More about preceptors for nursing students
Let’s start by discussing the role of a preceptor. As we mentioned in the introduction, preceptors are licensed, highly educated and skilled nurses who guide and mentor student nurses. Their aim is to help them build the confidence and skills to practice successfully as a nurse.
They do this by setting goals for their students, teaching them protocols and practices, offering feedback, encouraging them to think critically and guiding and mentoring them on their path. The central strand running through all these functions is research and evidence — senior nurses in the role of preceptor used evidence-based best practice as the foundation of their work, instilling this in their students. Their role has the overall aim of shaping the next generation of nurses with a focus on improved care delivery and better outcomes for patients.
Preceptor roles are available to advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), with a license to practice in the state where they are performing this role and in a specialty that matches the clinical placement they are working on. Successful preceptors must also demonstrate personal skills, such as great communication skills, a love of teaching and a desire to better patient outcomes. It’s a highly rewarding responsibility, which benefits the preceptor and their nursing students in many ways.
The benefits that DNP-prepared preceptors offer
It’s time to take a closer look at the many benefits that DNP-prepared nurses offer in preceptorship roles:
Advanced clinical knowledge
Anyone who has completed a doctor of nursing program will possess a wealth of experience in a variety of different areas. They will have already completed rigorous training to register as a licensed nurse, have spent many hours working in a hands-on role with patients and will also have gone on to deepen their understanding of nursing in a postgraduate program.
In addition to structured training and education, these preceptors will have carried out many hours of self-guided study and networking, from reading up on the latest research to attending and presenting at professional events such as conferences. They may have also been involved in research projects, either leading or participating in them and have possibly served on committees relating to ethics or patient care.
Combined, this experience means that they have an understanding of the latest skills, techniques and knowledge to pass on to their students. There is no one better placed to guide the latest generation of nurses on their professional journey.
Mentorship and guidance
Mentorship and guidance are two crucial aspects of the clinical preceptor role. In addition to passing on their clinical skills, preceptors have a duty to support their students, encouraging them to reflect, question and learn about their profession.
As part of this position, preceptors often take on a pastoral type of role, offering support for their students. At times, working as a nurse can be tough and without doubt, emotionally challenging situations such as the death or terminal diagnosis of a patient can have an impact on their caregivers as well as their families.
In their role as a mentor, preceptors can provide an outlet for students to explore and process their reactions and feelings in a way that is healthy, productive and professional. Due to their vast clinical experience, preceptors will have experienced many similar situations, which makes them ideally placed to support students in understanding the impact a patient’s journey may have on them.
The mentorship aspect of preceptorship also involves encouraging student nurses to find their strengths and plan a career that appeals to their personal preferences while playing to their strengths. Helping students set their career goals and shape their future pathway is another important dimension of this role.
Frequently, because of their extensive knowledge, DNP-prepared nurses acting as preceptors will have experience in more than one discipline of nursing. Of course, they will have experienced a variety of areas when they were completing their basic nurse training. Later, they may have worked in a general and varied role such as family medicine or in a very specialized area such as oncology or psychiatry.
Their career will likely also have led them to work in many different settings, such as hospitals, community health centers, and maybe places of education like school, university or even the private sector. This means that they have a wide variety of experiences from which they can draw and are able to advise and guide their students according to their own particular interests.
For student nurses, it can be challenging to know which direction to take at an early stage in their career, so having a preceptor who has experience in a diverse range of settings and specialties is a distinct advantage when it comes to identifying a pathway for their future as a nurse.
Role modeling excellence
In any discipline, role models are an essential part of a trainee’s development, helping them to evolve to become the confident and competent professional they aspire to be. This couldn’t be more true than when it comes to nursing, a career that demands not only rigorous clinical knowledge and expertise but requires a range of personal characteristics, including compassion, problem-solving and communication skills as just a few examples.
To find a role model who can fit this description, look to a dedicated professional who has not only amassed a wealth of professional expertise but also demonstrates the desired personality traits expected in this position. A senior nurse who has earned a doctorate in nursing practice demonstrates a strong commitment to their profession and must possess the tenacity and high professional standards needed to reach a point in their careers that enables them to work as preceptors.
This makes them excellent role models, making them a living example of what good nursing and healthcare is all about. When enrolled in a doctorate of nursing program, the focus is clearly on quality improvement and helping to develop solutions to reach this end. The concept of raising the bar for patient care therefore comes naturally to DNP-prepared nurses, who reflect this in the role modeling they offer to their student nurses — the next generation to take the improvement of quality care forward.
Clinical skills development
Practical and clinical skills are necessary for student nurses to graduate and to be able to carry out their role competently and with confidence. A preceptor who has earned a doctorate of nursing is the ideal teacher in this scenario, as they have accumulated an enormous amount of practical experience throughout their career by working directly with patients.
As part of their own studies, they will have experienced multiple nursing clinicals and residencies, furthering their own clinical skills development. They will also have taken a high level perspective of nursing practice, applying the findings of research to practical guidelines and interventions around nursing care and learning about the redesign of healthcare systems and delivery of care so that it improves the outcome for patients.
This means that they have a unique insight into the application of clinical skills, so they can share practical competencies and methodologies and explain the reasoning behind certain choices and practices.
Working as a preceptor means that DNP-prepared nurses are stepping into a leadership role where they can share their experience and knowledge with others. To have earned a doctorate of nursing, they will have had to step up to leadership roles along their journey, ranging from managing a team of nurses on a ward through to getting involved in committees and research projects.
These skills are invaluable when it comes to what they can offer to student nurses. Not only will they be leading by example but also modeling what a great nurse leader looks and acts like so that student nurses can be inspired at the earliest stage of their career journey. Successful healthcare systems are all about continual development and improvement, so by demonstrating sound leadership skills, preceptors pave the way for others to take on these types of roles later in their careers to help achieve these goals.
Contributing to the profession
Highly qualified preceptors contribute to the profession of nursing in a myriad of ways. Passing on their skills and knowledge, they inspire the next generation of nurses so that healthcare continues to grow, develop and strive for excellence. Their unique insights and experiences in caring for patients offer a valuable perspective to student nurses, helping them to understand the many different scenarios and situations they are likely to come across during their career.
They will have instilled in them the habit of questioning, analyzing and searching out evidence-based practices so that at whatever level they are working, whether in direct patient care or in a strategic role, they are always striving to achieve the best outcomes. Sharing these positive attributes, the preceptor with a doctor of nursing background inspires their students with a can-do attitude and a passion for improving patient care at every level.
Sharing experience with the next generation
As we’ve seen, working with a preceptor provides numerous benefits to student nurses — and a tremendous amount of satisfaction to preceptors, who can share their accumulated knowledge and experience with the next generation of healthcare professionals. If you’re reading this article as an experienced nurse who strives to achieve excellence and advance the quality of patient care, you may be interested in postgraduate training that can lead you to many exciting roles as a senior nurse, including that of a preceptor.
One of the most popular pathways is to enroll in a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program through a reputable institution such as Wilkes University. These courses are designed for candidates who already possess a Master of Science in Nursing and wish to achieve the highest level of nursing to prepare them for senior positions, including preceptorships. If you’re wondering how to schedule study into your career path, then rest assured that DNP accelerated programs can be completed in as little as six terms. This means you don’t have to take an extended break from your nursing career and can work towards your goals quicker and smarter. The Online Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Wilkes University includes 100% online coursework so you can study from any of Wilkes’ authorized states, saving you traveling to campus or having to stick to an inflexible schedule and the program is designed to allow you to continue fulfilling your current roles and responsibilities as you study.
The program also offers nursing clinicals and residencies, as well as support services, so while it flexes to your needs, you will also benefit from in-person experiences to enhance your learning. Once you’ve gained your qualification, you’ll get the chance to apply to senior roles where you can really make a difference in improving health systems and patients’ experiences.
As we’ve discovered, one way to do this is through working as a preceptor, helping shape and inform the upcoming generation of nurses and working with them towards a common goal — that of creating a better healthcare system for all. Your hard work will pay off in many other ways, including a generous salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, senior nurses at the top of their profession earn a median salary of $125,900 per year to reflect their skills and experience.
The power of education
Nurse preceptors with a doctorate in nursing practice offer many perspectives, benefits and insights to their students. Drawing from their vast experience and knowledge, they have the ability to inspire those just starting out in their career, supporting them to become excellent nurses with an end goal of delivering the best care to patients.
If you would like to be part of this journey, consider earning a doctorate of nursing practice, which will enable you to apply for preceptorship roles once you’re qualified. For those who thrive on improving healthcare quality and systems and believe in the power of education, this is your chance to achieve some very worthy goals.