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College of Nursing

The vital role of preceptors

Clinical experience with a preceptor is a vital component to the nurse practitioner curriculum, and relies on experienced nurse practitioners to dedicate their time to educate future nurses.

As any NP has experienced, the process of finding a preceptor is a stressful and oftentimes difficult task for students. Relating to that is one of the reasons Terry Sims, ’07 MSN, is so passionate about volunteering his time.

“I was a student once, so I know how it is. There’s not a lot of preceptors out there and it breaks my heart when someone calls and says they’re going to have to sit out a semester,” he said. “There’s a lot of students that are not getting what they need and that’s very difficult and discouraging. That’s not what we need to do. We need to encourage people to become nurse practitioners and advanced practice nurses.” 

Ann Alexander, ’79 BSN ’89 MSN, agrees. “Someone precepted me to get me to my area of practice, and I have always felt like I need to reciprocate so we can keep our profession growing.”

For Alexander, a nurse practitioner at Lexington Pediatric Practice, precepting is a two-way street. Not only is she teaching students, but she’s learning a lot herself, too.

“Teaching helps me to stay current with new developments and treatments. I tend to research more so I can be sure I’m teaching the students what’s most up-to-date,” Alexander said. “If I’m uncomfortable with a situation, we’ll look something up together and that helps both of us learn. It’s an ongoing learning experience for me, too.”

Sims, a family nurse practitioner at Great Falls Family Medicine, has been precepting FNP students for over ten years. Working with students has been like continuing his education.

“I gain the benefit of having the experience of their professors, who are keeping them up to date with all the different skills and knowledge base. The students ask a lot of appropriate questions. They keep me on my toes,” he said.

Alexander says that, while precepting is a time commitment that might slow you down, it’s possible to find processes and routines with your student that make it an efficient and rewarding experience for you both. And in the end, it’s important to remember how vital the preceptor role is to the nurse practitioner education, and therefore the growth of the profession.

“I feel like we each need to take one and teach them,” Alexander said. “Because if we don't, our profession is not going to grow as quickly. We need more nurse practitioners so we can get more access to care for our patients.”

For information on how to become a preceptor for University of South Carolina students, contact Jeanne Cavanaugh, Director of Clinical Partnerships, at

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