How to find your own NP preceptors

np nurse

Frustrations with finding preceptors

One of the most frustrating parts of being a nurse practitioner (NP) student is the requirement to find your own preceptors. Having to find your own preceptors is like asking a high schooler to find their own teacher to learn Biology 101. You can do it, but isn’t that what the school is for? NP students are required to obtain between 500 and 700 clinical hours to satisfy graduation requirements.  

What’s so stressful about finding your own preceptors to fulfill each of your practicum requirements is that there aren’t places brimming with preceptors willing to teach. Also, your school needs to have a contract with each practicum location which can slow the process of security a preceptor site.  

A student can’t just knock on the door of any organization, asking for a preceptor. What’s worse is that some students are forced to delay completing a class or even graduating because they can’t find a preceptor. That’s horrible. Change needs to occur on a systems level, but I was so curious about the backwardness of this all that I dug into the research to see how schools, and the nursing profession, view this issue.

Here’s what I found.

It seems like there’s a lot of info out there with a quick Google search on tips for finding preceptors or paid services you can utilize to find a clinical placement, but very little out there exists about why the burden falls on NPs to find their own preceptors.

Barriers to finding preceptor sites

It’s tough to find clinical preceptors regardless of NP specialty or location across the United States. Understanding barriers may help know how to work around them. Some of the barriers to finding preceptors include:

  • Many graduate programs lack a network of preceptors1
  • Nursing programs, and other healthcare programs, often compete for the same clinical sites and preceptors1
  • Students require significant personal time to secure placements2
  • Compensation to preceptors rarely involves direct payment2
  • Few NP programs use electronic matching platforms2

It’s no wonder you’re having a hard time finding a preceptor! There are lots of obstacles. And you’re not the only one having a hard time. 40% of NP students make all or most of the effort to find their preceptors.2

Process for securing preceptors (Represents the percentage of NP Program Director Respondents from a national survey) 2

Advice for finding your own preceptors

NP students remain responsible for finding many of their preceptors to fulfill academic requirements for the time being.  Many NP students aren’t aware of the difficulties they may face with preceptorships when they start NP programs. NP students must be aware of the barriers to finding preceptors and work proactively to secure clinical sites.

One of the biggest issues NP students have is an overreliance on schools to find preceptors (understandable, it should be the school’s responsibility). Or, NP students don’t realize the difficulty of finding preceptors until it is too late.

It’s important to start looking for your preceptor sites early. As soon as you start your MSN program, you should be aware of your clinical hour requirements. You should know how many hours in each type of setting you will be required to obtain. You should know how many hours you will be required to obtain in each type of patient population. It can take several semesters to secure a placement, so know the requirements well in advance.

You can also start making connections with places you have worked as an RN (or where you currently work). Talk to the more experienced APRNs and physicians about the possibility of doing your preceptorship hours with them. Or ask if they know of anyone who may be willing to take on a student.

You can also reach out to local organizations or clinics asking about preceptor opportunities. Lastly, talk to your school (semesters ahead of time) about their network of preceptors and where they have current contracts in place.

Your proactivity with regular and diligent searching for preceptors is key to meeting your clinical requirements. Know it’s not your fault that you are having difficulty finding preceptors and keep your eye on the ultimate goal of becoming a board-certified NP.  

1McInnis, A., Schlemmer, T., & Chapman, B. (2021). The significance of the NP preceptorship shortage. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing.

2Doherty, C., Fogg, L., Bigley, M., Todd, B., & O’Sullivan, L. (2020). Nurse practitioner student clinical placement processes: A national survey of nurse practitioner programs. Nursing Outlook. doi: 10.1016/j.outlook.2019.07.005

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