The practicum experience in Chamberlain University’s MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) specialty track is designed to expose you to diverse patient populations from birth through end of life.
The hands on-experience assessing, diagnosing and treating a variety of conditions is invaluable in growing into a well-rounded practitioner. However, students often find it takes more effort than they expected to find a nurse practitioner preceptor in their area. We spoke with nine graduates of Chamberlain’s MSN FNP specialty track to get their advice on how to find a NP preceptor.
And don’t forget, Chamberlain offers a Preceptor Matching Service to help you identify and secure NP preceptors and practicum opportunities if you get stuck.
8 Strategies to Identify Nurse Practitioner Preceptors
1. Network with other nurse practitioner students.
Jacob Garcia had no issues when it came time to find a nurse practitioner preceptor – largely because he didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.
“I knew a few people in San Antonio who went to Chamberlain and they gave me recommendations,” he said. “The same sites they studied at precepted me. It was all networking.”
Several other students cited this as the most successful tactic they used in securing NP preceptors.
“I had the most success just talking with friends who were also in NP programs and asking them who they used,” said Craig Philhower. “I would then contact them directly and use my friends as personal references. One of my friends in another program suggested using one of her NP preceptors, as he was friendly and liked taking students. He was able to take me and I stayed with him for three rotations.”
For students who don’t work in clinics or hospitals – this can be a great tactic for how to find a NP preceptor. Start looking early for people in your city that have gone through the program and connecting with them.
2. Tap your personal network.
When thinking about how to find a NP preceptor, you don’t always have to go far. If you’re a practicing nurse, you already have a great network to start discussing your plans with. Even if you know a provider can’t take you, ask them if they know someone who might.
“I worked in the operating room at my old hospital, so I knew a lot of doctors that had practices,” said Jaclyn Hamlin. “Talk with the doctors you work with – they are all friends with other doctors. Some of them would say, ‘Oh, I can’t take you, but I know another OB/GYN that might.’ That was really helpful.”
As a practicing nurse, Sarah Magula also networked with physicians in the area ahead of time to find a nurse practitioner preceptor.
“I really just can’t stress enough to be assertive,” she said. “Even if a student comes into the program with only one year of nursing experience, you still interact with doctors in that amount of time – those are going to be your prospects for practicums.”
The search to find an NP preceptor could also start with your personal healthcare provider – and make sure to ask friends and family for referrals to their providers as well.
3. Start early.
Among all the students we interviewed, one piece of advice for how to find a NP preceptor and practicum site was unanimous: START EARLY.
How early can depend on the strength of your network, and how many NP preceptors are available in your area. For Philhower, who lives in the D.C. area, he wished he had started his search a year in advance.
“The benefit of living in Northern Virginia is there a ton of locations, but the downside is that there are also a ton of schools and a lot of the spaces are used for medical students and other nurse practitioner programs,” he said. “A lot of the places I called were willing to accept me, but they were booked out for the next 12 months. They told me they would put my name on the list and call me back. That didn’t work at all for me.”
4. Tell anyone & everyone you’re looking for a FNP practicum site.
Sarah Magula recommends sharing that you will be looking for nurse practitioner preceptors and a practicum site from Day 1 in the program.
“I ran into different mid-levels throughout the program and they would tell me where they went for different rotations,” she said. “Put it out there and get feelers to find out what everyone in your area did, what doctors are more receptive to teaching, what hospitals are teaching organizations.”
You truly never know who might be able to connect you with NP preceptors or a practicum site. Philhower found one of his sites after helping a woman who was stranded by giving her car a jump.
“I asked what she did, and she told me she was a nurse practitioner at a pediatrics office,” he said. “I told her I was looking for a clinical preceptor and she said, ‘Well, one good favor deserves another. Give me a call when you’re ready.’”
5. Follow up.
Starting early can sometimes feel difficult, as nurse practitioner preceptors and other providers are so busy.
“They will say things like, ‘Oh you’re a year away? Sure, that will be fine,’” said Tia Carrington. “They might put you on the back burner for a while.”
Once you get that “yes,” your job isn’t yet done. Philhower recommends regularly reaching out to the office to ensure the placement is still set.
“If you’re a year out, call them back every three months to verify everything is still going so that you don’t shaft yourself,” he said. “From six months on, you should be calling every month. As long as that happens, you should be fine – don’t wait and think everything will be fine.”
6. Show up in person.
While Magula found most rotations through networking, she had to turn to cold calls for her OB – Maternal Women’s Health class. Living in an area saturated with NP and PA programs, she found that local offices were being bombarded with calls – and oftentimes didn’t even get her message.
“So many people told me no,” she said. “There was one office who wasn’t calling me back, so I showed up at the office with a baked goods tray and asked them. The tray cost me like $30, which is really not a lot for the experience I gained from that rotation. I’m not saying you have to be pushy, but if you want that experience, you have to go out and chase it down.”
Melanie Hendrix recommends calling and making an appointment to see potential NP preceptors in person – and dress for success, wearing what you would for an interview. Jaime Henson agrees.
“My advice on how to find a NP preceptor and a practicum site is to start early, have a back-up plan and ask people face-to-face,” she said. “I actually went to my PCP and asked him face-to-face if he could precept me for a rotation.”
7. Be persistent when cold calling.
When networking isn’t working, cold contacting potential nurse practitioner preceptors may be the only option. Aarti Mehta found her practicum sites exclusively through cold calling – which required persistence.
“Don’t give up – eventually, you’ll find that one preceptor who is willing to take you in,” she said. “If you have to drive a little bit, if you have to give up a little more family time because of it, you have to do it. But don’t give up – and don’t expect it to be handed to you. You’re going to have to do work to find NP preceptors.”
Henson found several of her rotations by searching for nurse practitioners in her hospital system’s email system and “cold emailing them.”
“I explained who I was, the expectations of clinical, the timeframe I was hoping for, that I was an employee, and last but not least I offered the incentive for their benefit – precepting counts towards the bonus structure at my organization,” she said. “I had several unable to for various reasons but received enough ‘yeses’ to complete my rotations.”
Track who you are reaching out to – including their name, date of contact and type of outreach. This can help with follow up.
8. Lean on Chamberlain for Support.
FNP student Restituto Velarde secured his initial practicum site through his personal network. When it came time to find a pediatrics site, however, he called every clinic in his area without success. He reached out to the practicum team at Chamberlain, and within a week, his practicum coordinator had found local NP preceptors for him.
“It’s always good to find your own preceptor if you can, because you don’t know who you will be with if you’re matched,” he said. “But if you can’t, the matching service is really, really helpful. It decreases the stress and anxiety, and I had a really good experience with the preceptor I matched with.”
The Chamberlain Preceptor Matching Service has helped find a NP preceptor and a practicum site for 100% of students who used the service and need a preceptor to progress through the program. Students must engage them at least three sessions in advance. To qualify for the service, you will need to document at least five sites that have denied your requests and have participated in at least two coaching calls with the Practicum Coordination team.
So, the takeaways on how to find a NP preceptor? Start early and treat it like a job search. Don’t be surprised to hear multiple ‘nos.’ It’s best to secure your own nurse practitioner preceptors if possible, but if you get stuck – Chamberlain is here to help you through. Learn more about Chamberlain’s Family Nurse Practitioner Specialty Track.
Additional Resources for NP Preceptors & Practicums:
Important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program can be found at www.chamberlain.edu/gemsn.
By Molly Mattison
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