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Advice for new preceptors

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Career Manager By Chelsea E. Leonard, PharmD

During residency, I served as an unofficial preceptor for student pharmacists who rotated through my practice site. At the time, I had only been out of school a few months and wasn’t exactly sure how to provide a good rotation experience for them. I was honestly just hoping they wouldn’t notice that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But I put on my game face (aka, “fake it ‘til you make it”) and got to work.

Here are some tips I found helpful during my own learning experience.

Tip 1: Prepare, prepare, prepare
Provide guidelines. Develop a training manual to provide your students on the first day of the rotation. Include your syllabus with hours, objectives, dress code, cell phone policy, potential projects, etc. Also include templates if you want students to follow a specific format for any written projects you may assign. Next, create a calendar for them. Having structure for the rotation will help the student stay on track, and it will also help you ensure that they are completing the desired objectives and activities. 

Tip 2: Set expectations
Communicate. On the first day, sit down with your student and discuss the manual and the calendar. Tell them exactly what you expect them to accomplish and discuss any rules or policies you want them to know about. If you do this, hopefully you will avoid a situation where the student says, “Well, I didn’t know you wanted me to have it by Monday,” or “No one ever told me I couldn’t be on my phone.” Trust me, I have been there. 

In addition to setting expectations for the student, ask them to tell you what they expect out of you. This will help you adapt your teaching style to their needs and will ultimately help you become a better preceptor. 

Tip 3: Have a plan for handling conflict
Prepare for the inevitable. Let’s face it. You will probably have a conflict occur with a student at some point during your precepting career. If so, you need to have a plan to handle it instead of brushing it aside. Some examples of common student-preceptor conflicts include:

· Student isn’t interested in your practice setting. Explain the importance of understanding and respecting other types of pharmacy. Find activities that could be translated to other settings, and explain how they go hand-in-hand to provide the best care for patients. 

· Student has a bad attitude. Nip it in the bud. Discuss your concerns with the student. They may be having other issues that need to be handled outside of the rotation, but it’s important for them to understand that they need to leave the bad attitude at the door. 

· Student has poor communication skills. Allow them to listen to you counsel a patient or call a prescriber. After hearing examples of strong communication, hopefully they will improve. If not, record the student’s interactions and let them listen to themselves. Surprisingly, this was one of the most effective tools I have found to improve communication skills. 

If you have issues that you address and don’t see improvement, don’t be afraid to contact the school. Chances are they would want to be made aware of the issue, and they should be able to help you handle the situation. 

Tough but rewarding
Precepting is tough, but incredibly rewarding.  It takes some work and preparation up front, but it pays off when the students can leave saying that they learned a lot and had a great experience.  I love being able to share my passion for pharmacy with students, and I love it even more when I see that same passion grow in them.

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