We knew that as of 2022, the US would need over a million nurses to prevent a shortage. That data was before COVID, so you can bet the number is higher now. Over 500,000 nurses were expected to retire just last year, while the aging baby boomers will require more and more healthcare services.
Those shortages are reflected in your workloads, and we don’t need to tell you that it’s getting worse as this pandemic continues.
So how do we change that? We do what seems impossible under the circumstances.
We embrace new nurses to get them to their best, even if it feels like we are barely treading water.
Being a good preceptor is about more than letting a nursing student or new nurse follow you around. There is a method to the madness, and nurses like you can make the difference in how long a new nurse lasts or if the nursing student even graduates into this challenging profession.
Here are some things you can do to help new nurses grow:
- Volunteer to be a preceptor. We know it slows you down a little bit. Yes, it means you have to do stuff (mostly) by the book… but is that a bad thing? Being a preceptor means you need to elevate the care you provide to show new nurses how to do it safely. That might seem exhausting since you already have so much on your plate, but the payback is twofold. Even in training, you get an extra set of hands, plus once you’ve gotten a new nurses’ feet under them, there are fewer holes in the floor schedule.
- Teach while you nurse. Just say your reasoning out loud. The brain of a nurse is a mystery, especially to nursing students who haven’t had the time to make those critical care connections. Instead of waiting for your student to ask questions, just speak your inner monologue aloud (okay, maybe not all of it). The hard part about nursing isn’t the task work. Anyone can put in a foley or take out an NG tube. The hard part is figuring out when to hold a med or when to ask for a different one, or when to contact a doc vs. when to try something else first. Speak your reasoning out loud, and your student or new nurse will learn volumes without you having to change your pace.
- Let them do things. Again, this may slow you down at the moment, but it will save you time in just a few weeks. Helping a new nurse or student start a line is like the old adage, “give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” Your student will be happy to share the catch with you, which means less task work for you to do yourself. If you teach them to be strong and capable, they can help you when you need it most.
- Try not to be a downer. No healthcare isn’t at its greatest right now. You are short-staffed, you likely have more work than hours, and you probably aren’t getting paid as much as you would like. Grouching about all of those things isn’t going to make that nurse or that student want to come work for your hospital just like it isn’t helping them start their nursing career for the right reasons. You go into this to help patients, right? Don’t let the red tape get in the way of showing your passion for the job. Nurses who aren’t in it for the right reasons won’t make it, but it doesn’t help to pass low morale onto your student. Graduation should be a high point, not a date they dread.
- Be respectful. Yes, there are dumb questions, but there doesn’t have to be sarcastic answers. If you need a break from your student, take one, but make sure you give them a safe task or another nurse to follow for a bit. Everyone’s personality is different. If you aren’t the bubbly sort, don’t rain on their parade. Nursing school is hard, remember? Your student or new nurse is likely nervous or terrified they may hurt their patient. Remember that feeling? If you don’t, take a little walk down memory lane, take a deep breath, and answer the question nicely.
Patience is the way to go here; nurses don’t have to eat their young. That is unless you want to work overtime every week until you retire. But, trust us, training the new generation of nurses will come in handy one day. So, even if you don’t think of yourself as Ms. or Mr. personality, do us all a favor and get through the shift with a student by your side.
You will be thankful for the extra set of hands in a code brown and even more grateful that someone will be there for you one day when you need healthcare.