1. Section Editor(s): Rust, Jo Ellen MSN, RN

Article Content



CURRENT POSITION: Surgical CNS, St Vincent Hospital




AREA(S) OF SPECIALIZATION: Perioperative Nursing




CERTIFICATIONS: Pain Management, Adult CNS


The NACNS Preceptor of the Year award was presented to Francesca Levitt, MSN, RN-BC at the NACNS Annual Conference in Chicago, IL March 2012. She was nominated by Mitchell Kaisely, an Adult Health CNS student. Ms Kaisely reports Ms Levitt "exceeded her expectations as a preceptor, willingly sharing her knowledge, skills and expertise. She frequently introduces her students to new procedures, research and best practice. She goes out of the way to make every clinical interesting and educational. Due to this student's curiosity about the head and neck cancer patient, Ms Levitt created a unique clinical experience in the tumor clinic to help the student better understand the care of this population at all stages of their cancer. By working with her, students quickly appreciate the ability of a CNS to collaborate, make changes, and manage conflict. It is also evident to students that the role of the CNS is to have a positive influence on the institution, nurses, and the care of the patients so optimal patient outcomes are achieved."


She teaches the value of relationships. CNSs cannot be effective within an organization without those strong relationships. Ms Levitt is "highly respected by patients and their families along with colleagues in all levels of the organization as evidenced by multiple nurses, physicians, patients or family members stopping in the hall or coming by her office to ask a question or say hi. Francesca is a role model for many and her office is a true testament to the relationships that she has built as it is decorated with the awards, pictures, cards, and notes that she has received over the years."


Ms Levitt's direct supervisor, Dr Jan Powers, describes her as one who takes the time to get to know her students and understand their needs, finding worthwhile learning opportunities to fulfill their objectives. Her mentoring persists long after a semester ends and assures students are connected to local professional organizations. She will go out of the way to provide feedback and challenge the way the student thinks. Ms Levitt makes an effort to keep in touch with students through phone calls and e-mails. She provides pep talks to keep students motivated.


You are obviously highly respected as a role model for CNS students, what do you feel are the most important skills or competencies to mentor for such students?

The skills or competencies most important when serving as a role model and mentor to CNS students is the ability to see the "big picture," to communicate effectively, asking probing questions to get at the relevant issues and etiologies. As a preceptor, I strive to put students at ease so they can ask questions without feeling judged, which promotes a healthy learning environment. Other important attributes include relationship building and networking.


One of your personal skills mentioned by your nominees was challenging students to sharpen their critical thinking. What do you think are the best precepting methods to do this? What other most frequently used preceptor strategies do you use?

Helping students to sharpen their critical thinking skills is best done by helping them become analytic thinkers in a complex healthcare environment. Using the work of Drs Richard Paul and Linda Elder, students need to consider the following elements of thought: the purpose or goal, question at hand, available information, interpretation and inference, concepts, assumptions, implications and consequences, and point of view. See for more information. Critical thinking is dynamic; one must constantly take into consideration the many aspects involved, resisting the urge to view problems simplistically and superficially. Another strategy to help students become good critical thinkers is to debrief after interactions. This allows the preceptor to discuss the student's strengths and opportunities for growth and development in a nonthreatening manner.


In your years of experience, is there one particular aspect of clinical nurse specialist practice that you think students struggle with the most and why? What successful learning activities do you use to help them in this area?


Explaining the CNS role to those who lack familiarity with the position is very challenging for many students. The so-called 30-second elevator speech is a very effective way to practice becoming comfortable articulating the benefits of the CNS to the patient, nurse, and organization. Introducing students to everyone we encounter in the course of the day allows students the opportunity to meet individuals from all levels in the organization and feel a part of the work at hand.


What helped you the most in preparing for the role of a clinical nurse specialist?


I had several excellent CNS preceptors who demonstrated the attributes of effective leaders and exposed me to systemwide change projects. My academic preparation introduced me to complexity science, research appraisal, transformational leadership, current literature, and the basic understanding of autonomous nursing practice. As a seasoned nurse, this opened my eyes to viewing patients, nurses, and the organization in an entirely different light. My education inspired me to practice with intention; once you know better, you do better.


What do you find you learn from the experience of precepting CNS students?


Students bring their different backgrounds and work experiences to the table, which allows me to learn as much from them as they do from me. I am ever mindful of the enormous responsibility I have to help shape future CNSs. Precepting helps keep me more aware of what I say and how I say it, cognizant of my communication as I go about my work.


What has it meant to you to receive this award both personally and professionally?


Being the recipient of this award is a great honor and confirmation that I am in the right place doing what I was called to do. This realization brings me great joy and fulfillment. I am challenged to hold myself to a higher standard and continuously look for opportunities to grow and embrace change.