by Lt. Colonel Beulah Nash-Teachey, RN, BSN Minority Nurse Writer
As more health care employers continue to streamline their staffing and management process in an effort to control costs, it is becoming increasingly difficult for minority nurses to advance to high-level nursing positions. Nurses who hope to move up to a more advanced career level often have no choice but to change employers and/or relocate to other cities.
Whether you’re moving across the country or across the street—or, for that matter, if you’re a brand new nursing school graduate taking that crucial first step from classroom to career—adjusting to a new job can be stressful. At the same time, health care employers face the considerable challenge of how to orient and train newly hired nurses as quickly as possible to minimize “downtime” in patient care while the new staff members are getting up to speed with the facility’s specific policies and procedures.
Preceptorship programs—i.e., training programs that pair new nursing staff with experienced nurses at the facility—can be an effective solution for both the employer and the new employee. Preceptorships are organized, planned educational programs in which seasoned nurse preceptors, in addition to their regular nursing functions, promote the integration of newly hired nurses into the workplace, helping them make a smooth transition into a fast-paced, hands-on patient care environment.
As of the year 2000, minority nurses still make up only about 13% of this country’s total RN population. Therefore, there is a strong chance that a newly hired nurse of color could be the only nurse from his or her particular racial or ethnic background at that facility. How will they be able to fit into the work environment when none of the other nurses look like them or understand their culture?
It helps to have a friend. Effectively managed preceptorship programs can help minority nurses adjust quickly and confidently to their new job responsibilities by giving them an immediate friend—a knowledgeable, skilled nurse to show them the ropes and help them cope with the challenge of being “the new kid on the block.”
To Guide, Support and Assist
Picture this scenario: You’ve just found out that you’ve been hired for the nursing position of your dreams, but it’s at a new hospital where you know no one. How would you feel? Panicked? Apprehensive? Anxious? While these feelings are natural with any major life change, imagine how much calmer you would feel knowing there would be someone at your new job to guide, support and assist you when you join the organization.
A well-planned preceptorship program and knowledgeable, helpful preceptors are key factors in building a great nursing team. A preceptor must be a clinically experienced, competent and skilled nurse who can serve as a role model for the new employee. Ideally, the preceptor’s role is to guide, train and assess the new nurse to ensure that he or she will be able to function effectively, both independently and as a team member.
An important element of any successful preceptorship program is providing planned social activities that can serve as a catalyst for helping recently hired nurses get to know their new colleagues. These events are an opportunity for staff members to meet and welcome their new co-workers, and to identify common interests and goals. For new minority hires, this type of socialization can also be a helpful way to build working relationships and get to meet and network with other nurses of color.
Employee retention is important in maintaining a stable patient care environment at any health care facility. Vast amounts of time and money are invested each year in recruiting and training new nursing staff; the same amount of energy should be put into retaining these nurses once they are hired. Preceptorship programs are an integral part of retention, because they give each new nurse an opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to the organization.
When newly hired RNs are treated with value and respect, when trust and a positive work environment are established right from the start, word of mouth will spread. Building a strong reputation as a supportive workplace for minority nurses ultimately benefits both retention and recruitment, by encouraging other RNs of color to apply for nursing positions at that facility.
“Would I Want You as My Nurse?”
Once the preceptor and the preceptee have begun their training relationship, assessing the new nurse’s progress and clinical performance becomes a pivotal component of the program. As an experienced nurse and supervisor, the question I always pose when evaluating nursing recruits is: “Would I want this person to take care of me or my family members?”
Because the preceptor works side-by-side with the new hire for a length of time determined by the organization and the individual’s specialty, they are in the perfect position to evaluate the new nurse’s abilities. The preceptor’s role in this phase is not to demean or belittle the new hire, but to serve as a conduit to facilitate their growth and development as a nurse. While there may be times when the preceptor and the new nurse may not agree on certain areas of the skills assessment, the bottom line is that whatever decision is agreed upon must always be in the best interests of the patient.
Because the newly hired nurse will soon be required to work independently, his or her competence must be validated as soon as possible. The preceptor’s responsibility is to do everything possible to ensure that the new staff member will be able to function effectively as a valuable member of the nursing team. Nurses are taught many processes and skills, but the standard mission should always be the same—to provide safe, high- quality nursing care.
Watching Them Blossom
Preceptorship programs are a management initiative with a proven track record in assisting both novice nursing staff and those moving up to the next rung of their career ladder. Any health care facility that does not have such a program in place can benefit tremendously from starting one.
Guiding a new nurse and being able to watch him or her blossom is a gratifying experience. Minority RNs who are nursing department managers, supervisors or simply experienced staff members have many opportunities to reach out and assist new nurses entering their workplace. It is imperative that you extend a nurturing hand to your peers—especially to other minority nurses who may be overlooked by majority co-workers. By becoming a preceptor and “giving back” to a new minority nurse, you may even find that your own professional development is growing and blooming too.