Finding a Preceptor: A Personal Journey

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Julie Barclay, RN, MSN

When I made the decision to go back to school and pursue my online Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate, I realized the value of finding a great preceptor. To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed with the idea of finding my own preceptor, but the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea. As nursing students, we are guided into our clinical areas based on the curriculum; with Bradley’s online graduate nursing programs, you then choose your preceptor and determine who helps you on your pathway to success.

Finding a preceptor is vital for optimal learning and to ensure completion of your rotation. In my case, I need to complete 150 hours of hands-on experience per clinical course. My initial two clinical courses were in adult health and could be fulfilled in a primary care office, emergency department, minor emergency center or various other clinical sites. For the women’s health, pediatrics and geriatric rotations, clinicals may be completed at sites that match up with the training each student needs to receive. For example, I completed my women’s health in an OB/GYN office and assisted with deliveries, completed women’s annual exams and helped with obstetrical visits. I am currently completing my pediatric rotation with a pediatrician.

Trying to find a preceptor who has similar thoughts and ideas regarding patient care can be tricky. If you find your preceptor’s ideas of treatment plans oppose your own, the situation may lead to an uncomfortable clinical experience. I knew my first preceptor ran a busy practice and his patients loved him. I knew how he was trained during his medical residency and was familiar with his treatment plans since he cared for my youngest son as a doctor. I was impressed by his bedside manner and wanted to emulate his style as a practitioner. I learned a great deal during the time I spent with him and plan to finish my last rotation with him in April. Although you won’t always have firsthand knowledge of each preceptor you encounter, it is important to find out as much as possible about the people you select to help you in your educational journey.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the field of nurse practitioners will increase by 35 percent through 2024 due to the aging workforce and health care reform. Because of this demand for sites and preceptors, it’s crucial you find and line up preceptors early. You will have to compete to arrange for the preceptors you need. Among the issues making the process difficult are that local nursing programs utilize their own staff to cover their students, there is competition with medical students for physicians and some sites don’t want to work with online programs.

Here are my top five tips for finding a preceptor:

  1. Use your network. When I first found out that I needed to find preceptors, my first choice was my son’s physician. He was someone I knew and felt comfortable working with on a daily basis. My second preceptor was a nurse practitioner who worked with my friends and family. I also contacted other new NPs to ask their opinion on potential preceptors.
  2. Make cold calls. I picked up the phone to find my women’s health and pediatric preceptors. Determine what your objectives are for each specific clinical rotation, and then narrow down your preceptors from there.
  3. Ask for referrals. Ask around for referrals on preceptors who you may know or have heard about. Keep trying when struggling to find a preceptor; seek out recommendations from faculty members, family and friends.
  4. Think local. Try to find a preceptor in your area; it is a huge timesaver for travel times. I narrowed down my clinical sites to those that are 10 minutes or less from my home to help me with my work, life and school balance.
  5. Be persistent. This is your education, and you will get out of it what you put into to it. Don’t give up, and find ways to be inventive when searching for preceptors.

I have been blessed to have the preceptors I have had. Their clinical experience, the level of knowledge and dedication to quality patient care has provided me a great educational experience. Each preceptor has left their mark on me, and I will be a better practitioner for having them as a preceptor.

The benefit to clinical supervision for both the student and practitioner is knowledge transfer. My first preceptor shared with me that I was triggering him to learn new things and he enjoyed the time he spent supervising me as much as I enjoyed acquiring new knowledge and information from him. Engage and interact with the professionals who surround you during your clinical rotations. After all, you may be practicing with them once you are a nurse practitioner yourself.


Recommended Readings

What Is a Preceptor?

Career Spotlight: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Bradley University Nursing Programs



Nurse Practitioner, Overview, Number 2 in The100BestJobs, (2017). US News and World Report,