How to Find a Nurse Practitioner Preceptor
Reviewed by Abbie Jacobs, RN, BSN
Registered Nurses can become a nurse practitioner (NP) trained to diagnose, assess, create treatment plans, order diagnostic tests and interpret them for their patients. As a Nurse Practitioner (NP), you can even start your own practice and develop programs that benefit your patients and communities, but first you have to actually become an NP.
To do that you’ll need to expand your nursing education, which includes completing at least 500 hours of supervised clinical hours under a nurse practitioner preceptor. While a robust practicum experience helps you gain the skills and experience you need for success, it isn’t always easy to find a preceptor. In fact, this can be one of the most frustrating aspects of becoming a Nurse Practitioner, especially if you are looking at an online program. While many nurse practitioner schools assist in the process of finding clinical sites and preceptors, you may be left to set up these pieces of your education on your own if you’re in an online NP program.
To help you with the process, we’ve compiled some basic advice on how to arrange clinical sites for your NP program.
Ten Tips for Finding a Nurse Practitioner Preceptor
Many programs and online schools require you to find a nurse practitioner preceptor on your own. This article will give you some ideas on how to find a nurse practitioner preceptor. Here are ten tips that could help:
1. Understand the Clinical Requirements for Becoming a Nurse Pracitioner
Be sure you know the credentials required of your preceptor and understand all of the requirements for a potential practicum site. This first step is critically important. Getting this step right can save you a lot of time, frustration, and heartache. NP students often learn that it’s a good idea to identify a practicum site early, and the first thing you need to do is understand what is required of approved clinical sites. Ask for this information early in your decision making process so you can plan and prepare.
2. Borrow Skills from Successful Sales Pros and Apply Them to Your NP Clinical Site Search
The advice in this tip can be used with all of the other recommendations in this list. Sales professionals have spent years honing the art of making connections and selling products or services. You are doing the same thing when you line up a preceptor-ship — you’re selling yourself.
If you don’t have a connection you can leverage for an introduction, sales professionals often send letters or emails to introduce themselves and their company’s goods and services. You can, too.
If you don’t receive a response, then call. If you’re unable to reach the advanced practice provider you want to talk with, be prepared to leave a message. You can borrow these same techniques.
But remember, this isn’t just about asking for a preceptor-ship because you need it to finish your nurse practitioner education requirements. Good salespeople know how important it is to emphasize mutual benefits. Your purpose is to sell yourself and present the value and benefits to be gained by working with you to your potential preceptor. This might include future collaborations such as volunteering or working with the health care providers you want to learn from. Maybe you can assist with ongoing research or studies that are being conducted, at no cost to the clinical site. Be creative but realistic as you present yourself to potential preceptors.
Before you make a call, it’s a good idea to write a script or outline of what you want to say. Practice until the words come freely and naturally and you’ll show yourself to be an organized professional. Once you’ve made several calls, which is highly likely, you will learn what works and what doesn’t and can adjust your pitch to be more effective.
You have a better chance of getting a practicum site if you have a face-to-face meeting, so try to schedule an appointment as early on in your efforts as possible. This should be your primary goal when calling clinical sites, so plan for that from the start. It can also be difficult to connect with the person you want to speak with, so be prepared to leave a clear, concise message that will get your point across.
If you don’t receive a response within a couple of days, call again. In any type of sales situation–even if you’re selling yourself–persistence is key. While you don’t want to be a pest, you also don’t want to be timid when following-up to get a response. As many successful sales people will tell you, persistence often pays off, and this is something you should be prepared to apply to your search for clinical sites and NP preceptors.
3. Use What You’ve Got and Talk to Your Own Health Care Providers
Ask your own medical providers, nurse colleagues, and instructors if they know anyone they would recommend to be your preceptor. If they do, don’t be shy about asking if they would be willing to make an introduction or provide a recommendation. The worst that could happen is that they don’t know anyone or aren’t comfortable providing a referral. The best case scenario is that simply by asking the nurses and advanced practice providers you already interact with, you can find a high quality NP clinical preceptor right under your nose.
4. Do Your Research and Find NPs with the Skills You Want to Learn From
Identify possible advanced practice nursing preceptors in your area or at facilities that interest. Is there a community health center you’ve always wanted to learn more about? What about a research facility, an infusion center or a cancer center in your area? Look for Nurse Practitioners that are leaders in your community — where do they work? Learn what you can about their professional backgrounds, interests and personalities. The more you know, the more informed your decision will be and the easier it will be for you to relate to your potential preceptor. This can also help when it comes to presenting them with potential benefits of working with you, as they may be interested in mentoring and teaching someone that shares their own nursing interests.
5. Use the Internet to Find Nursing School Preceptors
Let’s say you’ve exhausted your local preceptor-ship options, you’ve researched, called and emailed numerous APRNs in your area with no luck. Now what?
There are online directories that can help you find nurse practitioner preceptors. Some are free, but many require you to pay for their services. Investigate their policies before you use them, but don’t be afraid to use them if you’re having a hard time finding a preceptor for nursing school.
Another idea is to check job boards for NP positions in your area and reach out to the hiring managers. Potential employers may be happy to have a student like you who could work in the practice. It’s a great chance for both of you to see if there’s a good match for a possible opportunity after the preceptor-ship.
Finally, use nursing clinical site resources to communicate with other nurse practitioner students who have tips for arranging clinical sites and preceptors. By reading through comments and threads on the subject, you can prevent yourself from making the same mistakes other NP students have and find successful tactics to setting up this essential aspect of your nursing education.
6. Differentiate Yourself From Other NP Students Vying for the Same Clinical Sites
Before you begin to seek a preceptor or locate a clinical site for your NP continuum, complete an honest self-evaluation. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Know what you like and what you don’t like. Differentiate yourself from other candidates and demonstrate that you’re a driven professional who will add value. Treat your interactions with your contacts as you would any potential employer. You will want to demonstrate to each and every clinical contact that choosing you would be a good decision.
What experience do you bring to the table? How do you stand out? What nursing knowledge can you share? How can patients benefit from your nursing skills? Figure these out and showcase them during your interactions with clinical site coordinators.
7. Be Flexible About Your Preceptor and NP Clinical Site Options
You’ve done your self-assessment and you know what you’re looking for. You’ve called, emailed, interviewed, searched job boards and forums, but the ideal nursing preceptor site isn’t available.
At this point, remember that it is important to be flexible. Demonstrate flexibility with a positive attitude and a can-do willingness. If you need to postpone a clinical rotation for a semester, travel to another location for clinical hours or work with a sector partnership program to find a preceptor be open to these as options. If you are fixed and rigid when it comes to selecting your ideal clinical preceptor, you may be disappointed or miss out on other fortuitous options for learning.
8. Have a Back-Up Plan – And Use It
Everything doesn’t always go according to plan, so it’s always a good idea to identify a back-up site in case your first choice doesn’t work out or something falls through. You may even want to look at multiple advanced practice nursing school options to ensure you have a broad base for selecting the learning options that work best for you. Making a backup plan is perhaps the single most important piece of advice in this list. Life happens. Plan for it.
9. Use a Paid Preceptor Matching Service
There are preceptor matching services for nurse practitioner clinical rotations that have been designed specifically to help NP students like you connect with clinical sites and preceptors. These services find clinical preceptors for NP students. If you decide you need to use a paid service, you can expect to pay anywhere from $10 -$20 per clinical hour. Many of these services work nationally, and some offer a guarantee for finding you a preceptor. Again, be certain that you understand the terms and conditions, and don’t forget to make sure your understand what your school requires in a site before committing.
10. Network With Other Nurse Practitioner Students
Last, but certainly not least, you need to network with other NP students and APRNs that have been where you are. Networking is the process of developing and using your contacts. In any industry, networking helps you make connections and build relationships of support and respect to discover and create mutual benefits. You can use networking to increase business, improve knowledge and find a job–or find a clinical preceptor.
Let everyone–friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, former colleagues, online acquaintances, other students and professionals in your area–know that you’re an NP student actively seeking a preceptor. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Help can come from unexpected places.
You may also be able to find online forums with tips and opportunities from other students looking for or who have completed their clinical rotations in online forums. Again, these forums are a great way to network and are easy to find with a Google search for terms like: nursing clinical preceptor; nurse practitioner clinical sites; NP preceptors; and a variety of combinations of these same terms.
While it can be a difficult to find a clinical preceptor for your NP program, if you follow these tips and are persistent in making connections and following up with contacts, your chances of finding a clinical site increases. And remember, what it all comes down to is finding a place where you can help learn more about your patients, your role as an advanced practice nurse and that will help you realize your goal of becoming a nurse practitioner.
Good luck! And if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.