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'We must not eat our young'


Our nurse mentor gives an insight into how the other side thinks

I remember when I was in nursing school.

I would always experience angst when it came to the clinical learning environment. Would I know enough? Would my preceptor look at me as being incompetent? Would I embarrass my instructor by asking a stupid question? 

To combat this anxiety, I willed myself to volunteer for every opportunity to practice or learn a skill under the tutelage of my preceptor; so taking responsibility for my nursing education, proving myself to be a quick learner to my preceptor, and making my instructor proud.

Student nurses must take advantage of opportunities that arise, and feel secure doing so. 

A preceptor that has reflected upon her past experiences as a novice nurse is the perfect person with whom to share a clinical experience with.

As the student nurse moves through the stages of nursing knowledge - novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert - the preceptor will be there to guide her, and be a sounding board for questions of concerns that may arise while in the clinical setting.

What happens if a student nurse is paired with a preceptor that is not welcoming to a student? 

This is a case for nursing administration to address.

Nursing administration will be able to assess the root cause of the non-receptive preceptor’s ambivalence to student nurses. It may be as simple as the feelings of insecurity on the preceptors’ part in regard her level of nursing knowledge. 

Whatever the case may be, it can have a negative impact on the student nurse and would benefit from being paired with a preceptor that is more accommodating to her needs.

I’ve experienced great preceptors, and bad preceptors. I have learned from every one of them. From the great preceptors, I soaked up the knowledge and experience they allowed me to have like a sponge.

From the bad preceptors, I’ve learned how to mentor a student nurse by having patience, compassion, and trusting that they will do their best to learn and provide great patient care.

Theresa Durham is an RN, ADON at Parkway Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.


Koontz, A., Mallory, J., Burns, J. &Chapman. S. (2010, July- August). Staff Nurses and Students: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Research for Practice, 19(4), 240-246.



Readers' comments (2)

  • Excellent article. I absolutely agree with this. I personally absolutely LOVE teaching students, partly because I believe that we are all, regardless of proficiency, still continuously learning. I am under no misconception that I know it all, and openly admit that I deskill in certain areas without constantly updating that knowledge. Student Nurses are a great source of information too, and whilst I have gained proficiency in certain skills and love passing that knowledge on, I think we can learn from each other as much as we can teach.

    I do believe though that not nearly enough support is given to students and newly qualified staff Nurses, both in the form of practical study sessions (within 'office hours' so to speak, not in their own time) and just general understanding that they cannot know everything, no one does. Much more needs to be done in this area I think, and part of that is addressing the culture within Nursing that does I am afraid lean toward eating our young.

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  • Adam Roxby

    I agree with Mike, great article.
    I have been in the lucky position to teach my mentor while in the community about tips and tricks I learnt as an HCA. Life, as with nursing is a constant oppertunity to learn.

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