Preceptors are selected based upon a number of important criteria. Catholic University believes that the quality of our clinical programs is related directly to the outstanding team of preceptors who partner with us in providing graduate students with clinical training. If a student requests consideration of a new preceptor not previously known to the faculty, faculty will evaluate the preceptor and setting using their established criteria. Faculty consider three main areas when considering a preceptor: individual preceptor qualifications, strengths of the clinical setting, and needs of the individual student/course.

Individual preceptor qualifications

All preceptors are considered to be experts in the area of practice in which they will work with students. Preceptor curriculum vitae, including professional practice experience, are maintained and updated regularly. For nurse practitioner students, preceptors must be currently licensed (and certified) to practice with the population of interest. While preceptors for nurse practitioner students are expected to have at least two years of clinical experience, they usually have much more. Advanced practice nursing students will be placed with preceptors who possess the legal authority, clinical expertise, and practice experience to assure their competency as expert practitioners. The majority of preceptors for graduate students are advanced practice registered nurses whose role and population of interest match the student’s career path. Physician and physician assistant and public health preceptors are used if their qualifications and practice settings best suit the student’s clinical learning needs. The important role of interprofessional teams in care management has created opportunities for student learning with other health professionals such as those in the fields of social work, psychology/psychiatry, nutrition, and public health. For nurse practitioners, the number of hours spent with other team members is limited and is planned in accordance and in compliance with national certification standards. Other key variables related to effectiveness of an individual preceptor include personal characteristics, such as interest and enthusiasm in student teaching, flexibility, and communication skills.

Clinical setting

The clinical setting in which the preceptor works is a key factor to consider in choosing a preceptor. For nurse practitioners, questions that must be answered satisfactorily and meet the particular course objectives include: What are the demographics of patients seen in this setting? What types of health services are provided? How much time is allowed for a student to spend with each patient? Does the setting have adequate space to allow the student to spend sufficient time with patients, without holding up the pace of others? How will students use documentation? How many patients are typically seen in a day? Will students have opportunities to observe preceptors, if necessary? Will preceptors be willing to observe students? Will the setting and preceptor allow students to progress when they are ready to more independently assess patients, present patients to the preceptor and suggest management? Will there be opportunities to follow patients? Will preceptors provide students with additional opportunities for learning, such as reviewing lab findings and radiology, making referrals, making home visits, participating in rounds, and meetings with other health care professionals? Finally, will the preceptor maintain adequate supervision over all care provided by students?

Individual student progression

Graduate students progress through clinical courses in a program plan that is designed by faculty to assure that they develop clinical competencies in a systematic way that is integrated with didactic course work. Before beginning any clinical course, all students first complete a comprehensive three credit advanced health assessment course. All students are expected to be able to perform complete and accurate health histories and physical examinations before beginning clinical. Subsequent clinical objectives for students are arranged sequentially. Therefore, clinical course objectives are important determinants in selecting a preceptor for a student. In a first clinical for nurse practitioners, where refinement of history taking, physical examination, and differential diagnosis are primary objectives, a preceptor who has more time available to spend with a student and a setting where more comprehensive care is provided may be ideal. Later in a student’s program, a preceptor who expects students to move at a faster pace and is comfortable with a more independent student may be a better fit. Similarly the setting itself helps shape the choice of a preceptor to assure that the patients seen (level of acuity, gender, diagnoses, cultural heterogeneity, language, and procedures) match the learning needs of the students for that course. APHN students also follow a progression in their clinical training that is guided by faculty advisement and based on development and mastery of core public health competencies.