Creating Great Relationships with Preceptors

I’ve been a clinical preceptor for five years — I love cultivating each new student. More recently I’ve become an adjunct faculty member, and, before my students head out for their first clinical rotation, I give them the following advice on how to impress their preceptors.

1. Always show up early, ready to learn and eager to lend a hand. Rarely will people find a problem with you showing up to your clinical experience before you are expected. You should also stay until the work is complete.

2. Dress (and act) the part. Showing up dressed professionally with a clean, pressed lab jacket and a smile will take you far. Carry yourself with confidence and keep focused on the task at hand. Your life outside of the profession may be a train wreck, but it is your duty and commitment to the patients you are treating to give them your best.

3. One way or another, reference. Carrying around notebooks and reference manuals in your lab coat pockets has largely fallen out of favor, replaced by smart phone apps. But whichever method you prefer, a positive solution is the ultimate goal. Being able to supply a reference is important, and to be successful, you will have to find the best resource tool for you.

4. Ask questions. Don’t be meek. Speak up if you don’t know a particular answer, algorithm, or treatment. This time on rotations is your practice run, and there’s no better time to ask questions. Plus, you never know: your question may catch an oversight — or provide a fresh perspective — which has a positive impact on the patient’s outcome.

5. Don’t pass judgment. As a professional clinician, it is part of your responsibility to make a quick assessment of a patient’s situation and decisions about their clinical presentation. Keep an open mind and consider all the possibilities. You may not be aware of all the details and information, which can ultimately affect the quality of the care you provide.

6. Pack a lunch. There is rarely time for a lunch break, and it is often impossible to go get food. Stash some snacks in your backpack, clinic bag, or in your lab coat pocket. You may look like a squirrel, but you will be well prepared to fend off those hypoglycemic slumps. Feed your preceptor and/or support staff home baked goods to earn bonus points!

7. Practice your patient presentations. The more you practice and improve your presentation skills the more efficient and appreciative your preceptor will be. Including your pertinent positives and negatives will help you formulate your differential diagnosis and will help you “rule out” or “rule in” your diagnoses. And if you are unsure, remember tip #4 and ask questions.

8. Master your histories and sharpen your physical exam. Keep an open ear and listen to what your patient is trying to tell you. Make sure to limit your interruptions so that you allow your patient to explain their symptoms. Otherwise, you may miss some important information that could lead to unnecessary tests and longer times to diagnosis. Remember to use those skills you so diligently practiced in skills lab to become a proficient clinician.

9. Be compassionate. Patients will want you to fix issues that you are unable to solve. Often times you will be unable to provide immediate relief or answers. Showing compassion and respecting the patient’s feelings may be the most you can do for the patient or their families.

10. No job is too small. Knowing when to step in and assist support staff is a valuable tool. Choosing to provide care and offering to help out will often earn you respect from your medical team.