The transition from student status to qualified practitioner can be a daunting and traumatic time for the majority of individuals. Feelings of inadequacy and the inability to cope with this change can prove extremely stressful for the newly registered nurse and place new, ill-prepared for demands on them. Kramer (1974) describes this as 'Reality Shock'. It could even result in a change of career for some people. Allanach and Jennings (1990) stated that 'by easing the transition into the professional practice role, preceptorships may be useful in mitigating negative affective states which, in turn may effectively reduce the premature exit of new nurses from the profession'. There could also be a damaging effect on the standard of client care caused by lack of experience and skill incompetence. Lathlean and Corner (1991) conclude that 'most newly qualified nurses require further knowledge and development of skills and the traditional initial training does not prepare the student adequately for their first staff nurse post'.
The word Preceptor dates back to fifteenth century England and means tutor or instructor. The concept of preceptorship has been recognised in the United States of America since the nineteen seventies. The United Kingdom Central Council state in the Post Registration Education Practice document that preceptors should be first level practitioners with at least twelve months clinical experience in their relevant field, (UKCC 1990).
So what is preceptorship? There are various definitions as to exactly what it is from 'the one to one teaching of new employees or nursing students by clinical nurses' (Shamian and Inhaber 1985), to Chickerella and Lutz (1981) defining it as 'an individualised teaching / learning method, in which each student is assigned to a particular preceptor so they can experience day to day practice with a role model and resources immediately available within the clinical setting'. Because the preceptor is an identified member of the nursing team, the newly appointed staff nurse should feel confident enough to approach them with any difficulties they may experience or learning needs they have. It should also enhance security needs of the preceptee and ensure they do not feel incompetent by asking for support and assistance. The preceptor needs to possess certain personal qualities such as patience, confidence, a good knowledge base and enthusiasm, to name but a few. Preceptorship can often become confused with mentorship. May et al (1982) defines mentorship as 'an intense relationship calling for a high degree of involvement between a novice in a discipline and a person who is knowledgeable and wise in that area'. Preceptorships tend to be more short lived and are on a more equal basis as both parties are registered professionals. The preceptor is more concerned with teaching and learning aspects of the relationship (Burnard 1990). ...