Preceptors are important for the athletic training profession. They help not only support the education of athletic training students but provide mentorship and leadership within the athletic training profession itself.
The importance of precepting
Preceptors are hand-selected by athletic training program directors or clinical coordinators. The reason you’ve been asked to serve as a preceptor is that you’ve established yourself as someone who can successfully mentor an athletic training student. The athletic training program trusts you with the important task of mentoring and supporting a student. This is crucial because many athletic training students do not feel that they “belong” within the first six months of hire, and are sometimes at high risk of leaving the profession. As a preceptor, you teach the athletic training student how your organization expects the job to be done and socialize them into the profession.
Precepting is often the first step to becoming a leader. A successful preceptor has patience, motivation skills, communication skills, and the ability to present information clearly (break it down). Most importantly, preceptors must be supportive. The best preceptors are those who provide their preceptees with supportive, mutually respectful guidance. A safe, nonjudgmental environment is necessary for effective learning.
Precepting as a Resume Booster
Be sure to add your precepting experience on your resume. Future employers look favorably on applicants with precepting experience because it demonstrates initiative and is an endorsement of your skills. Your future self will thank you, guaranteed!
Precepting: It’s not always easy
It’s relatively easy to role model how to be a competent athletic trainer. It’s far more difficult to provide constructive feedback when your preceptee is having performance problems. Delivering constructive feedback is one of the most challenging situations preceptors face. Too often preceptors, and even athletic training program faculty, avoid conflict by avoiding uncomfortable critical conversations. An example of this avoidance is when a student athletic trainer reaches the end of their clinical rotation only to be told “You’re just not cutting it”. Many times in these instances there’s no documented action plan or record of performance problems. The athletic training student is stunned. It’s not that there isn’t a performance problem. It’s that no one has articulated the performance problem and expectations to the athletic training student. The number one thing preceptees want from you, their preceptor, is feedback. Regular, consistent feedback on their performance. If they are asking “How am I doing?”, chances are they are not receiving enough feedback from you.
As a preceptor, you are responsible for the athletic training student’s learning needs, but the athletic training program is responsible for non-learning performance issues. An example is an athletic training student who is repeatedly late after you have spoken with them. This is not a learning need, it is a non-learning performance discrepancy that needs to involve the program director.
Being a preceptor can be immensely rewarding. It’s also an opportunity to expand your communication skills.
Best wishes and happy precepting!