HGH Preceptors Share Education, Guidance with Other Staff Members

They come from varied backgrounds, educational levels, cultures and even areas of the country, but Humboldt General Hospital's preceptors have one thing in common: they stand ready to help bring the next tier of staff members forward.

Preceptors are on-the-job trainers who take a new or transitioning employee under their wing and provide guidance and instruction.

"And they are so appreciated," said HGH Nurse Educator Tina Maestrejuan. "Our preceptor program has made all the difference in how we prepare employees for their jobs."

The program is largely geared toward nursing, although surgery techs have been the most recent preceptors to share their expertise.

In their role, the experienced employees model professional behavior 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 an employee is going to make it on his or her own.

Once the preceptor process is finished, participants move into more of a mentoring relationship where they can still provide guidance—but at more of a distance.

Three years ago, HGH's nursing leadership introduced the preceptor program as a way to provide more specialized instruction.

Since that time, more than a dozen nurses have graduated from the program and the hospital's preceptor roster has grown to include the surgery, emergency, acute, obstetrics and long-term care departments.

"It really gives our staff a chance to bridge the gap between the classroom and the clinical area," says Maestrejuan.

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

But it doesn't come without personal sacrifice.

"It is hard work," admitted Marsha Foreman, a nurse in the hospital's OB department, "but it's also passing on a gift that someone gave to you."

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

The preceptor group meets once a month to go over the program, including the difficult process of evaluating another person, as well as help establish weekly goals for each "student" to meet.

Preceptors do not receive additional pay for their instruction, but Kathryn Esquivel, an OB nurse, sees it as a way to give back to her profession.

"We like what we do," she said, "so we like being able to pass that on to the learner."

Foreman added, "It's gratifying to see a nurse grow into a competent professional."

Currently, Maestrejuan, Schlotzhauer, Foreman, Esquivel, Robyn Dunckhorst, Diane Nevis, Linda Goodale, Rachel Anderson, Candace Hotz and Josh Unruh are nurse preceptors at the hospital, while Juan Pederson and Regina Gatlin precept in the OR.

Maestrejuan said HGH continues to look for more medical professionals who are willing to share their 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 said the end result can be completely gratifying.

"Working in a hospital environment 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."