HGH Nurses Share Time, Talents to Train New Hires

From the moment the nurses at Humboldt General Hospital arrive on shift, they become their own whirlwind of patient care.

"We are busy," states Tina Maestrejuan, the hospital's nurse educator, who also volunteers her time as a nurse preceptor. "So training another nurse can be hard to fit in."

"But we like what we do," adds Kathryn Esquivel, an OB nurse, "so we like being able to pass that on to the learner."

Maestrejuan, Esquivel and four other nurses are preceptors at the hospital—nurse trainers who are tasked with orienting new hires or nurses new to a department.

In their role, the experienced nurses model professional interactions on the care unit, demonstrate nursing actions, and give timely and appropriate feedback to their students, especially where patient care is concerned.

There is no set time for the instruction, says Maestrejuan, but new hires are on probation for 90 days, so preceptors should have a good idea by then if a nurse is going to make it on his or her own.

The entire Humboldt General Hospital nursing staff used to help orient nurses to the job. But two years ago, nursing leadership introduced the preceptor program as a way to provide more specialized instruction.

And the hospital's six preceptors agree the program has been a success.

"It really gives nurses a change to bridge the gap between the classroom and the clinical area," says Maestrejuan.

"To know what's expected of them," adds Mary Schlotzhauer, a Skilled Nursing Facility RN.

But it doesn't come without personal sacrifice.

"It is hard work," admits Marsha Foreman, a nurse in the hospital's OB department.

"But we do it for the love of doing it," says Robyn Dunckhorst, an ER nurse. "We have to, because we have to do all our own work and train this other person at the same time."

Nurse preceptors do not receive additional pay for their instruction, but Foreman sees it as a way to give back to her profession. "It's gratifying to see a nurse grow into a competent professional," she says.

Schlotzhauer agrees. "It helps them get on the same page as far as nursing processes."

Since the program's inception in November 2010, 12 nurses have successfully graduated from the preceptor program; two were not recommended for permanent hire.

"You know when someone is not going to make it," says Esquivel. "It is so hard because this is someone's livelihood and you're taking that away."

Still, Esquivel says it comes down to excellent patient care and safety. "It's you putting your stamp on that person," she says, "and sometimes you can't do that."

In addition to Maestrejuan, Esquivel, Schlotzhauer, Foreman and Dunckhorst, Diane Nevis is a nurse preceptor; Victoria Lopez also took part in the program.

Maestrejuan said the hospital is always looking for more nurses willing to share their professional expertise.

"We need more preceptors," she said. "It's a tough job and you're constantly teaching, working and evaluating someone else. It takes a lot of time to do it."

Even so, Maestrejuan promises that the end result can be completely gratifying. "Being a nurse can be intimidating," she said, "but when you can take this new person and ease them into a new situation and help them be comfortable, it's great."

She added, "When you give them that confidence, that translates into better patient care, and that's why we do this."