A good nursing instructor or preceptor has a big job. Helping a nursing student or beginning nurse become a competent, independent practitioner requires a lot of mentoring and assistance. In order to know where to begin, where to focus and how to tailor training and support, nurse educators usually start their work with an assessment of student needs using many of the same skills and approaches used in assessing patients.

Administer a skills checklist to your students. Most hospitals and nursing employers have standardized skills or competency checklist forms they use during the hiring process. One of these will do. While self-reporting certainly isn't always accurate, a skills checklist will give you an accurate picture of how students see themselves.

Interview your students, asking them what they want from their experience, what they think they need, what they are hoping to achieve and where they want their career to develop. This will give you a better understanding of their needs from a personal and macro-perspective.

Ask students' previous instructors, supervisors or trainers for their assessments. You may do this by emailing or handing them a form with some questions—for instance, a skills checklist, like you give students. Or, depending on the situation, you might have an informal discussion with the person by phone or face-to-face.

Observe student interactions with patients to get a sense of their caring skills. Many nurse educators focus not just on the clinical knowledge, but also on caring as a critical aspect of nursing. Some instructors actually teach caring skills, while others figure out ways to model or coach their students.

Follow-up with patients with whom the nursing student has interacted. Elicit their feedback about the student's caring and communication skills.

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