Learn More (877) 791-7181
  • On-campus Programs
  • Apply now

Challenges and Opportunities Associated with Preceptored Community Health Experiences

Challenges and Opportunities Associated with Preceptored Community Health Experiences

At Sacred Heart University, a clinical practicum needs to be conducted prior to completing the MSN program. The article below describes challenges and opportunities associated with a preceptored clinical, including advice on how to choose a preceptor. As the clinicals are applying theories learned into action, the preceptor acts as a guide and supervisor while helping the student deal with real-world patient scenarios. Throughout the student’s clinicals, the preceptor assists the student in synthesizing and analyzing the experiences and regularly meets with the student for discussions. It is important that students ensure that the preceptor is aware of their goals so that the course objectives are met throughout the clinicals.

As nurses progress through their graduate education, they should begin to broaden their thinking beyond the acute care role to make a major paradigm shift from a focus on individual clients to the community as a client. A major part of this shift is beginning to leverage community partners to address common goals1, especially in graduate capstone or practicum experiences. This article is focused on making the most of your preceptored practicum and with a list of topic areas that can be considered by nursing students preparing for and going through their practicum (preceptored clinical leadership experience).

To ensure a positive, rigorous and rewarding learning experience, faculty must develop a partnership with the preceptor, agency, and student. The partnership helps to foster an environment that encourages students’ learning and where students feel they are part of a valued and important undertaking2, with the opportunity to make a greater impact on the organization, community, and maybe even the industry.

1. Select your preceptor wisely
The quality of the preceptor role model is key to a student's ability to learn to critically think about community health issues and achieve outcomes by applying course content3. A preceptor is an experienced clinician leader who serves as a resource and role model while mentoring and supervising a nursing student for a set period of time within a formalized educational program4, 5. Preceptors share the responsibility for guiding students' learning experiences and ensuring that course outcomes are met with course faculty.

An ideal preceptor for the MSN-HCSM program has an MSN/graduate degree with five to ten years’ experience in a leadership capacity. More often, preceptors are individuals who are assigned by the affiliated organization or who volunteer to work with students. Nursing students paired with preceptors with limited leadership, teaching or mentoring skills may feel that their opportunities are limited as a result of the experience, and preceptors may feel like they are taking on additional stress because of the increased responsibilities and extra time commitments6.

The preceptor will:

  • Serve as a role model for students in the community setting
  • Direct and supervise care provided to individuals, families and the community to meet clinical objectives
  • Assist assigned student(s) with identification of and referral to community resources
  • Orient students to community agency policies and procedures
  • Maintain ongoing communication with assigned faculty
  • Provide periodic feedback to faculty related to student's performance
  • Contact faculty in the event of any immediate or emergency student concerns
  • Agree to be evaluated by the student at the completion of the community preceptorship experience

2. Keep the lines of communication open
Most important is the necessity to keep the lines of communication open. Preceptors' verbal and written feedback regarding students' abilities to meet the course outcomes are an integral part of the evaluation process. Evaluating students is a difficult task for preceptors, especially if they need to give negative feedback. Open and ongoing communication between faculty and preceptors, either with or without students, provides an opportunity to discuss students' performance and guide preceptors through the evaluation process.

3. Identify the goals going into your practicum – what you’re getting into and what you want to get out of it
The goal of a preceptored practicum experience is to provide opportunities for nursing students to apply the theory, research and nursing leadership skills they’ve learned in their coursework to nursing practice to local, state, regional, national and global issues. The course goal is intentionally very broad so it can be aligned to the student’s selected concentration area, and the variety of settings available for practicum experiences makes the achievement of this goal challenging and rewarding.

Students are also offered the prospect of choosing a different department within their current place of work. Not only does this mean a greater likelihood of selecting a preceptor that they are already familiar with, greater flexibility with hours and far more convenience for travel, it also provides the chance to affect actual change within an organization with issues you are already aware need to be addressed.

4. See challenges as opportunities for growth
Students must think critically beyond the acute focus on individuals' diseases and treatments to other more obscure issues that influence health and illness. Many of the most successful practicums Sacred Heart University students have completed are a result of nurses recognizing inefficiencies in the current systems they work in. By identifying these challenges, they use them as opportunities to impart change to the greater system and thus improve the healthcare that the community receives.

5. Be responsible for your own success
Nursing students have responsibility for ensuring that their experiences are successful. Students must identify personal goals that are congruent with course outcomes, and communicate these goals to their preceptors.

Clinical Practicum for Nursing Education, Nurse Management & Executive Leadership and Clinical Nurse Leader specializations

Sacred Heart University’s Master of Science in Nursing offers three specializations: Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL), Nursing Education and Nursing Management & Executive Leadership. Each specialization consists of courses that require clinical practicum hours toward the end of the program curriculum. Clinical Nurse Leader requires 348 and prepares students to sit for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing CNL Certificate Exam. The Nursing Education specialization requires 180 clinical hours, and the Nursing Management & Executive Leadership specialization requires 120 hours. The clinicals may be completed locally; we do not require on-campus residency. Sacred Heart works with you to help you find an organization and preceptor that fits and meets your individual interests. It is important that the faculty approve your clinical site and preceptor prior to accumulating clinical hours. Possible acute care site venues include but are not limited to community clinics, private practices, urgent care sites, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, Indian reservations, military sites, specialty clinics or family practices in your home community or other area.

Sacred Heart’s School of Nursing incorporates the most current information through comprehensive, innovative courses and state-of-the-art methods in the nursing curriculum. All classes are taught by experienced nurses and nurse educators, of whom 80% of hold the highest degrees in their field. Sacred Heart is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education and is ranked among the top 40 colleges in the North region by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, it is ranked Top 10 in the category of Best Colleges for Veterans.

Advance your career, specialize in a field of study, and do it all with the convenience and flexibility of the online format. The classes are asynchronous and you can take breaks as needed.

Become the nurse leader you were meant to be through Sacred Heart’s accredited* online Master of Science in Nursing degree! Call Sacred Heart University at 877-791-7181 to speak with an admissions adviser.

Adapted from: Wade, G. H. and Hayes, E. (2010), Special Features: Education: Challenges and Opportunities Associated with Preceptored Community Health Clinical Experiences. Public Health Nursing, 27: 459-467. [WWW document] URL http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1525-1446.2010.00879.x [accessed 3 July 2014].

1Lasater, K., Luce, L., Volpin, M., Terwilliger, A., & Wild, J. (2007). When it works: Learning community health nursing concepts from clinical experience. Nursing Education Perspectives, 28(2), 88–92.

2 Bernal, H., Shellman, J., & Reid, K. (2004). Essential concepts in developing community-university partnerships carelink: The partners in caring model. Public Health Nursing, 21(1), 32–43.

3 Myrick, F., & Yonge, O. (2002). Preceptor behaviors integral to the promotion of student critical thinking. Journal of Nursing Staff Development, 18(3), 127–135.

4 Seldomridge, L. A., & Walsh, C. M. (2006). Evaluating student performance in undergraduate preceptorships. Journal of Nursing Education, 45, 169–176.

5 Usher, K., Nolan, C., Reser, P., Owens, J., & Tollefson, J. (1999). An exploration of the preceptor role: Preceptors’ perceptions of benefits, rewards, supports and commitment to the preceptor role. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 29, 506–514.

6 Yonge, O., Krahn, H., Trojan, L., Reid, D., & Haase, M. (2002). Being a preceptor is stressful. Journal of Nursing Staff Development, 18(1), 22–27.


*RN-BSN, MSN and DNP nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, 655 K Street, Suite 750, Washington, DC 20001, (202) 887-6791.

Copyright © Wiley 2015