1. Appel, Yehudis BSN, RN

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I WAS ASKED to orient two new RNs to our subacute care unit. Both recently graduated from nursing school. At the time, I'd been working as a clinical RN for only a year. I still turned to my own mentor, a former nursing professor of mine, for guidance and encouragement when I was having a hard time or just needed someone to listen. As I oriented the two new RNs assigned to me, I couldn't help thinking, "How can I be a preceptor to them when I still need guidance myself?"

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Keeping a brave face

As I knew from my own experiences, it can take a while for new RNs to develop confidence in their clinical and critical thinking skills. Although we may try to keep a brave face, sometimes it's hard to hide what we're feeling. Sometimes it's impossible.


When I was called on to orient a pair of new nursing school graduates, I was only 6 months out of orientation myself. It was my responsibility to ensure they had a good understanding of how the units are run; how to properly interact and communicate with patients, their families, and the rest of the healthcare team; and to familiarize them with their daily assignments. I needed to be confident and instill in them the knowledge I'd received from my own mentor and clinical preceptor. I also needed to be there for them emotionally and to help them with the insecurities and anxieties of being a new RN-fears that I knew all too well. After all, I was still one of them.


Orientation responsibilities weighed heavily on me. I knew the lessons I taught them would set the foundation for the rest of their careers, and I worried constantly about making mistakes in my approach to teaching and guiding them. I kept thinking: What if I get too overwhelmed or forget to show them something? What if I crack under the pressure or make a mistake? I thought about the kind of example I wanted to set.


At times when the unit became hectic, I knew anxiety and worry were written all over my face. I was so stressed, I had tears in my eyes and almost cried. I knew the two new RNs had seen me at one of my most vulnerable moments on the job. I thought I'd failed as their preceptor.


Reassuring thanks

When their orientation ended, the RNs I'd precepted were assigned to different units. I didn't see them for a few weeks, but they both later told me they'd learned a great deal from me and the way I oriented them. They said the tips I gave them on how to start their day, document, and communicate with patients is what helped them most when they were on their own for the first time. More important, they said they'd learned how hectic a unit can get at a moment's notice and how to handle themselves in those stressful situations. They told me they hoped that someday, they'd have the same confidence I showed them during their orientation.


Lessons learned

I thought I couldn't be a preceptor if I still needed guidance and that I wasn't doing a good job because I sometimes felt overwhelmed. I learned we all need someone we can look to for guidance and support, whether we're experienced or novice RNs.


I thank my mentor for giving me the strength and courage to set a good example-just as she still does for me.