By Wendy Vardaman
Preceptors challenge themselves to mentor nursing students for the good of the profession. Along the way, they provide feedback to students and faculty about students’ progress, model effective nursing practices and ways of thinking, introduce students to interprofessional practice, and help students understand how to incorporate evidence-based strategies into practice. While students learn and practice nursing skills under the guidance and observation of their preceptors during work hours, preceptors also contribute their own time outside of work to prepare and to communicate with faculty.
“I was successful at my job [because] I had great training and good preceptors who supported and helped me. That was such a big part of my becoming a nurse.” —Emily Schumacher ’10
Though precepting is unpaid, the rewards include sharing knowledge with the next generation of nurses, providing support and mentorship to others, and giving back. Emily Schumacher ’10, DNP’18, CPNP, APNP, says her own student experiences with preceptors motivated her to take on the challenge. “I was successful at my job [because] I had great training and good preceptors who supported and helped me. That was such a big part of my becoming a nurse.”
A preceptor for over five years, Schumacher first worked with registered nurses before taking on doctor of nursing practice students during the pandemic. A pediatric nurse practitioner at UW Health in Developmental Pediatrics, Schumacher is a provider in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic at the Waisman Center. She and the team she belongs to help children and their families accomplish their development and behavior-related goals.
“I work in a fairly unique area. I’m the only NP in Developmental Pediatrics. I think it’s helpful for people working in the system to have awareness of developmental disabilities and autism, and support and resources for children who have disabilities in Wisconsin.”
Being supported on her “bad days” made all the difference to Schumacher. “Having someone to support you and point out the things you did well and to share their stories of messing up but things turning out okay is important.”
Schumacher also notes the importance of maintaining constructive communication with students. “I end my day making sure we touch base, even if it’s been super crazy, to give them one statement of praise and one thing to work on.”
Additionally, Schumacher demonstrates how to maintain a healthy work-life balance in a challenging profession. “I want the students I work with to know a little bit about my personal life and what I do to stay healthy. I do yoga, I work out frequently. I have a two-year-old and leave work at a reasonable time to be with him. When I spend time with my family, I don’t check work emails. I want students to understand setting those boundaries so they don’t get burned out.”
Precepting has its challenges, Schumacher acknowledges. She learned early on to have clear expectations and a review process in place at the beginning of the semester so that students get the most out of their time with her. Schumacher also says having supportive colleagues can help find bandwidth at work. She advises having conversations about one’s desire to precept before starting.
For those considering precepting, Schumacher recommends taking the half-day online “APP Preceptor Workshop.” Offered through the UW–Madison Interprofessional Continuing Education Partnership (ICEP), the workshop is geared toward meeting the needs of busy clinicians who precept physician assistant (PA) and DNP students.
The workshop helped Schumacher decide whether to try precepting and where she would find support in the role. School of Nursing faculty are, she says, “extremely reachable and helpful. They’re really responsive. I definitely felt supported that way.”
Schumacher counts her relationships with new nurses among precepting’s biggest rewards. Writing recommendations to help nurses get their “dream job” after graduating, following a nurse’s success, seeing students grow and learn for themselves “what they can accomplish and what they can do by the end” of just a semester, and learning from students are part of the preceptor experience. “If you’re thinking about it,” she says, “just do it.”