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CURRENT POSITIONS: Clinical Nurse Specialist, Acuity Adaptable Units, Eskenazi Health; Clinical Instructor, Western Governor's University; and Adjunct Lecturer, Indiana University School of Nursing


CURRENT AFFILIATION(S): Member of National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialist, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, American College of Cardiovascular Nurses, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, National League for Nursing, and American Association of Colleges of Nursing


AREA(S) OF SPECIALIZATION: Geriatric/adult health and cardiovascular


PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION: Master of Science in Nursing, Adult Health Clinical Nurse Specialist, Indiana University School of Nursing; Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from Indiana University School of Nursing


CERTIFICATIONS: Adult Clinical Nurse Specialist, American Nurses Credentialing Center; Cardiovascular, American College of Cardiovascular Nurses


The Preceptor of the Year Award is presented to recognize a National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS) member for outstanding professional achievement as a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) preceptor. The award acknowledges a CNS preceptor who has demonstrated commitment to teach, coach, and mentor CNS students to achieve CNS competencies in the nurse, patient, and organizational spheres as reflected in the NACNS Statement on CNS Practice and Education (2004).


Jennifer Kitchens, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, CVRN, is a CNS at Eskenazi Health, Indianapolis, Indiana. Jennifer has been a CNS preceptor for more than 6 years, working with CNS program students, as well as serving as an adjunct lecturer and guest speaker in CNS courses at Indiana University. She serves as a mentor and coach to students completing evidence-based practice projects. In addition, she has helped students in submitting abstracts of their work to national conferences and in creating and presenting poster and oral presentations for accepted abstracts.


In 2014, Jennifer received the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses Continuing Professional Development Scholarship. In 2013, she received the Excellence in Nursing Practice Award and 2 research grants from the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, Alpha Chapter. Jennifer has served in leadership positions for professional nursing organizations and is currently serving as cochair of the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety Heart Failure Readmission Workgroup.


Jennifer holds both an MSN in Adult Health Nursing and a BSN from Indiana University. During her undergraduate program, she was vice president of her class, received the Youth as Resources Award, and was on the National Dean's List. While in her master's program, she received an Academic Achievement Award and was twice awarded a Nursing Leadership Scholarship from Community Health Network, Indianapolis. She has published on a variety of nursing topics and has presented at local, regional, national, and international conferences.


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

It is important for a CNS preceptor to be a role model for clinical expertise, advanced knowledge, professional and ethical behavior, with leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. CNS preceptors need to demonstrate a dedication to facilitating learning, enhance utilization/performance of evidence-based practice and research, collaborate within interdisciplinary teams, make improvements in patient health outcomes and nursing practice, and impact the 3 spheres of influence important to CNS practice.


One of your personal skills mentioned by your nominees was challenging students to sharpen their critical thinking. What preceptor or learning strategies do you use?

CNS preceptors must have a strong foundation of basic attributes in order to help CNS students discover their full potential in these attributes, namely, patience, trust, respect, understanding, communication, and empathy. The CNS preceptor should promote individualized, positive learning experiences in a nonthreatening learning environment allowing students to feel comfortable with freely expressing ideas and asking questions while also considering student's learning needs, styles, and diversity. Suggested strategies are active listening, clear expectations, goal setting, being readily available and accessible, positive encouragement, enthusiasm for student clinical work, prompt/timely, frequent feedback, and evaluation. Students need to be able to identify barriers and stakeholders, understand change theories, manage time, address conflict, and identify and appropriately utilize resources. In order to enhance critical-thinking skills, it is important to allow for creativity, curiosity, and innovation. Some critical-thinking strategies include role modeling, reflection, brainstorming, and sharing personal experiences. Providing a wide variety of clinical learning experiences is crucial such as attending meetings, teaching classes and in-services, being involved in the continuing education process, teaching patients, journal clubs, grand rounds, performance improvement, and participation in systems projects and policy and procedure development. CNS preceptors should actively involve students in decision making, their CNS work and the role, and participation in evidence-based practice projects and allow them to be autonomous and independent in a nurturing and safe environment. After mentoring students on evidence-based practice projects, I coach them to disseminate their work at national conferences.


In your years of experience, are there aspects of CNS practice that you think students struggle with? What suggestions do you have for students to overcome some identified struggles?

CNS students may struggle with self-evaluation, consultation skills, and self-confidence with eventually assuming the CNS role. Another difficult aspect of practice involves outcomes data and evaluation measures, particularly in the area of cost. Students may not have an opportunity to experience or engage in a clinical change evaluation process and be unsure of how to deal with examining cost or cost avoidance. Student change projects are often limited, and students don't have time to see the impact of their work. Thus, students may not get to experience the full effect of the outcomes because it occurs after the student's clinical experience ends. In these situations, it's important to review with students the projected long-term outcomes and ways to measure impact.


I find that students' struggles are related to inexperience with a systems point of view. I support students in their professional growth and development in the CNS role, encouraging them to become involved in professional organizations including attending meetings, conferences, educational offerings and joining a committee, running for an office, obtaining specialty certification, networking, and disseminating their work.


What helped you prepare for the role of a CNS?

Application of evidence-based practice and research, clinical experiences with CNS preceptors, and interaction with clinical faculty were all beneficial in preparing for the CNS role.


Do you find you learned from the experiences of precepting CNS students?

Yes. In mentoring relationships, benefits are reciprocated from mentor to mentee. Both participants grow from the experience and the relationship. Interacting with students in learning activities such as coaching students in clinical projects and answering questions has definitely enhanced my clinical knowledge. Also, by asking students for feedback and to evaluate me as a CNS preceptor, I can make improvements for future interactions with CNS students.


What has it meant for you to receive this award?

Precepting is an essential part of the CNS role. I am very humbled and honored to receive this award. This award inspires me to continue to make improvements in CNS education and practice.