Frequently Asked Questions

The following are a series of frequently asked questions by preceptors and reflect the overall philosophy and intent of the Professional Practicum course. The responses are intended to apply to all the students in the course. If you feel that the circumstances in your clinical area may necessitate changing these then see the course clinical instructor.

How long is the Professional Practicum?

The Professional Practicum course is a five credit clinical course where senior nursing students in their last semester of nursing school spend 24 hours a week for the entire semester with an RN in a clinical setting learning and performing the role of the Professional Registered Nurse.

What requirements are there to be a Preceptor in this course?

Preceptors are RN’s, preferably with at least a BSN, a full-time appointment in their respective institution, viewed by their peers as experts in the clinical area, and have an interest in working with students that are in the last semester of nursing school. Preceptors can be from any shift and have any combination of shift hours.

What students are eligible to take this course?

The KU School of Nursing admits 128 Baccalaureate seeking students in the Fall semester each year. Students are admitted after having completed at least 62 hours of approved college course work. Each year approximately 125 students enter the Professional Practicum course. To get to this course, the nursing student must have already completed all the junior and senior level clinical and classroom course expectations at a grade of C or better. This includes courses in Nursing Foundations, Maternity, Pediatrics, Adults, Mental Health, Critical Care, and Population Based health care. In each of these courses the students have had classroom and clinical expectations. Students must have demonstrated their ability in a laboratory to perform clinical skills like physical assessment, medication administration, catheter insertion, blood administration, cardiac monitoring, and ventilator management. Many students have also performed these skills in a clinical setting with instructor supervision. Additionally, students have had classroom courses in pathophysiology, pharmacology, computer technology, research, and healthcare law and ethics. Students graduate from the program when they have completed 124 hours of college credit. At this time they become eligible to take the NCLEX exam which, when passed, makes them a Registered Nurse (RN).

What other class commitments do the students have while they are in the Practicum course?

In addition to the Professional Practicum course, during the Spring semester of the senior year students are also enrolled in two other classroom courses. These are Leadership and Management, and Professional Issues. Both these classes meet most Mondays during the semester. Because of this, Mondays are usually not a day available for students to be in the clinical setting.

How has the course been received?

Since beginning in the Spring of 1998 this course has received excellent reviews from students, preceptors, faculty and many others as a method for students to transition from school to a productive workforce member.

How do students choose their Practicum site and Preceptor?

The process of student enrollment in the Professional Practicum course is complex. The purpose is to match the student with the preceptor and clinical site that will best advance the student’s clinical career goals. To accomplish this, the student, course clinical faculty, and clinical institutions all take an active role in the enrollment process.

Student enrollment takes place during the last week of the KU Fall enrollment period. Typically this is about the middle of November. Students enroll by randomly assigned numbers. The random numbers are done by the Student Affairs Office at the School of Nursing and distributed to students approximately two weeks before enrollment. On the day of enrollment, students select a Practicum site from a list made available by the clinical faculty. This is done according to a randomly selected number with number one going first, number two second, etc, until the last student has completed enrollment. Following their practicum site selection the Fall enrollment process is completed with a member of the Student Affairs Office.

The random number method of enrollment is not perfect. One alternative enrollment method is to base the clinical site selection process on student achievement. A method we call competitive selection. In the past, faculty have chosen not to use this method because of the undue emphasis it places on course grades for the rank ordering.

As a preceptor or clinical agency can I request a specific student?

No. The School has chosen to follow a process that makes all the positions available to all students. In this manner no favoritism or bias is shown and student ownership in the practicum selection process is promoted.

What role do course faculty have in the students enrollment?

The clinical faculty role in the enrollment process is to contact the institution or agency they are working with and request volunteers to be preceptors. Each clinical faculty member may be working with up to ten students. Once the clinical faculty identifies the preceptor this persons name, their hours of work, and a short description of the nursing unit is made available to the course coordinator. The course coordinator transfers this information to the course web page for review. Ideally this information should be available by the middle of October. Therefore, it is not uncommon for faculty to begin contacting the agencies in September to start identifying preceptors. Contact the clinical instructor for information about how to access the course web site.

What role does the Clinical Institution or Agency have in the student’s enrollment?

The clinical institution or agency role is to assist the clinical faculty in identifying qualified preceptors and help in developing unit descriptions that can be shared with the students. Because students are often coordinating family and work obligations with school expectations it is important that the information supplied be complete and timely. In addition to the preceptor and unit descriptions, students find that the hours or shift the preceptor works to be an important factor in their selection process.

What role does the Course Coordinator have in the student’s enrollment?

The course coordinator is responsible for seeing that information about Practicum sites and preceptors are made available to the students in a timely fashion. This is accomplished by posting the preceptor and site information on the course web site no later than two weeks prior to enrollment and meeting with individuals or groups of students to answer questions about available practicum sites.

How do the clinical faculty know what sites the students want for their Practicum?

About one month prior to enrollment students are asked to complete a clinical site preference survey. Students choose 1st and 2nd preferences for their practicum from a list of available agencies and clinical specialties. This information is shared by the faculty with the institutions to help in their selection of preceptors. For example, if the survey shows that there is a high degree of interest among the seniors for critical care practicum experiences then the faculty and institutions can work together to develop more critical care types of experiences for the students. Student responses to the preference survey do not guarantee placement in a particular practicum site. The course coordinator develops, distributes, analyses and shares the results of the student preference survey with the students and faculty.

What if a student wants to do their Practicum at a site that is not listed?

Occasionally students want to do their practicum in an institution or agency that has not been identified by the faculty. This is known as the alternative clinical site placement option. If a student wants to pursue this option they must meet with the course coordinator prior to the random number assignments. The student must have a clear idea of where they want to do their practicum and a contact person in mind. The student is responsible for contacting the clinical agency to see about the possibility of doing their Professional Practicum at the facility. If the clinical institution agency is willing, the course coordinator will contact them about having the student do their practicum in that site. If the institution or agency agrees, then the course coordinator will see that a written contract is established between the agency and the School of Nursing and work with the institution to identify a preceptor.

What limits are there on selecting an Alternative Clinical site?

Kansas State Board of Nursing criteria require that the clinical faculty have a license in the State where the Student is doing their Professional Practicum. Students also need to be able to travel back to the School of Nursing to participate in the other two classes they must complete. This usually means they must be on campus at least one day a week. Clinical faculty must be willing and have the ability to travel to the alternative clinical sites to do regular visits. This usually amounts to three or four site visits by the clinical faculty member during the semester.

What grade does the student receive in this course?

The Professional Practicum is a five (5) hour clinical course. Students receive a pass or fail at the end of the course and not a grade.

How often should I expect to work with this student?

Many times students wish to meet their preceptor before the start of the semester often so they can coordinate schedules. Clinical faculty encourage this and will often help with arrangements. Students may not do any clinical activities during these visits.

During the first week of the semester students are not with their preceptors unless this has been approved by the clinical faculty. This is the time students are oriented to the clinical facility. Orientation varies from facility to facility and can take anywhere from three to 32 hours. Beginning in the second week students spend 24 hours per week with the preceptor. This relationship continues through the next to the last week of the semester. The last full clinical week of the semester is set aside for any makeup work, or to do project completion and presentation. The last week of the semester is finals week.

By following this schedule, students spend 312 hours in the clinical setting with the preceptor (13 weeks x 24 hours per week). The remaining eight (8) hours is allocated to orientation and clinical conference. Twenty-four (24) hours of clinical per week has been used because most preceptors work either an eight (8) or twelve (12) hour shift.

Having twenty four (24) hours of clinical and five (5) hours of class time per week during this semester also meets the Kansas State Board of Nursing requirement of not scheduling more than thirty two (32) hours of combined clinical and class time per week for any nursing student.

Can the student do more than 24 hours of clinical with the preceptor per week?

Generally, no. In addition to the State Board requirement, the student’s ability to use this time as a learning experience decreases when they do more than this amount of clinical per week. Time spent beyond the 24 hours per week many times is just for accumulation of clinical hours. If circumstances dictate that other arrangements be made then the clinical faculty needs to be included in this process and has the final approval.

What are the student’s clinical attendance requirements?

Students are expected to be on the unit ready to start when the preceptor would normally start their responsibilities. Students need to complete the shift and should not leave until the patients they are caring for have another care provider who indicates they are ready to assume care responsibilities. Students, who are ill or unable to be at clinical, must contact the clinical faculty and the clinical unit according to guidelines supplied by the clinical faculty. You should notify the clinical faculty anytime a student is not meeting these expectations. All missed clinical time must be made up for the student to satisfactorily complete the course. Time spent by the student on the unit after the end of their shift is generally not included in the 312 hours of clinical commitment.

Does the student always have to be with the preceptor when they are on the unit?

The student does not always have to be with the preceptor when they are doing clinical work on the unit. Students should not be arranging to work with other staff members without the approval or knowledge of the preceptor. If this is occurring then preceptors should clarify their expectations with the student and notify the clinical faculty.

If the preceptor "floats" to another unit to work for a shift what should the student do?

Generally it is a good idea to have the student go with you. This is a judgment decision based primarily on where the student has the best learning opportunities.

What is the dress code for the students?

Students can dress in a manner consistent with the dress code expectations of the nursing staff on the unit and the institution. They must wear a name badge from the School of Nursing identifying them as nursing students and wear the arm patch of the School of Nursing.

If the preceptor "floats" to another unit to work for a shift what should the student do?

Generally it is a good idea to have the student go with you. This is a judgment decision based primarily on where the student has the best learning opportunities.

What can the students chart in the medical record?

Students should be making entries in the medical record as if they were an RN on the unit. This does need to be consistent with Unit or Institution policy, so check. Students should sign each entry with: (their name), KUSN. The KU SON recommends that the preceptor sign these entries immediately after the student.

Can the student notify the physician and receive additional patient care orders?

During the course of the semester the student should have developed enough confidence in their abilities to notify the physician or appropriate medical staff to explain a patient’s clinical status. The preceptor should follow the appropriate agency policy when this is done, but as a general rule, the preceptor, to insure accuracy of the content, should participate in the conversation between the student and the physician.

What medications can the student administer?

Preceptors should expect students to be able to administer PO, IM, IV, Topical, eye and eardrops, and suppositories competently. Preceptors should expect that the student have a working knowledge of all the medications they are administering. Knowledge of actions, interactions, and administration of medications is an ongoing process and students should feel comfortable interacting with the preceptor to increase their personal ability but also demonstrate personal initiative. Preceptors should not expect a student to be familiar with medications that are unique to the clinical unit or experimental (i.e. Chemotherapy). Preceptors do need to verify a student’s competency with medications.

If the preceptor "floats" to another unit to work for a shift what should the student do?

Generally it is a good idea to have the student go with you. This is a judgment decision based primarily on where the student has the best learning opportunities.

Besides the clinical time on the unit what other approved class activities are available or expected of students that may take them off the unit?

Each year clinical faculty offer the students a variety of experiences they may chose to attend. Examples of these include, The Kansas State Nurses’ Association (KSNA) Day at the Legislature, The KU Student Research Day, and special classes at the Medical Center. Clinical faculty may also offer students the opportunity to participate in special events like, professional association meetings, disaster drills, or special teaching projects. If students chose to attend these they receive a set number of hours of clinical credit. Students need to keep the preceptor informed of their participation in these events. Student participation in these events does not alter nor replace the overall need to demonstrate clinical competency on the unit. If the preceptor feels the student is excessively creating activities that take them away from the clinical area then they should talk with the faculty. A schedule of these events is included in the course syllabus.

What does the course syllabus contain?

The course syllabus is available on the course web site. The syllabus contains the course description, course objectives, clinical performance expectations, general journal expectations, general case study or project expectations, sample student clinical schedule, PROFITS, preceptor-preceptee-faculty responsibilities, and the clinical evaluation tool. The syllabus can be printed from the web page. For information on how to access the course web site contact the clinical instructor working with you.

What do students need to do to complete the orientation?

Clinical faculty coordinate student orientation to the clinical agency/institution during the first week of the semester. Different clinical agencies have different requirements for student orientation. Some have all day sessions. Some have multiple day sessions. Others have very little structured orientation. The clinical agency/institution orientation most often covers issues like documentation, dress code, parking, fire and safety procedures, etc. Information about each student’s health and insurance status, general fire and safety training, and clinical competency is kept by the School of Nursing and follows guidelines outlined by the Greater Kansas City Clinical Educators Council. This negates each student from having to repeat these activities at each clinical agency /institution. Arrangements for orientation should be finalized and students notified before the end of the fall semester immediately prior to practicum.

In addition to a clinical agency/institution orientation, students need orientation to the practicum course. During this part of the orientation process the clinical faculty review the requirements for the course and outlines their specific expectations for clinical performance, personal course objectives, journals, and the case study or course project. Examples of the types of information the clinical faculty have shared with the students are available from the clinical faculty.

As a preceptor, what kind of orientation should I expect?

Each clinical faculty is responsible for the orientation of the preceptors. This should include a discussion of what the student should be able to do by the end of the semester and the role of the student/preceptor/faculty in this process. It has been helpful to share a list of the clinical competencies the students have completed in the skills lab. The preceptor should feel that each student’s education in this course is a partnership between the faculty and the preceptor.

As a preceptor what clinical supervision can I expect of the course faculty?

Since the clinical faculty cannot be ten different places at once, daily clinical supervision of the student becomes the role of the preceptor. Preceptors do need to be able to contact the clinical faculty should problems arise. Therefore each preceptor needs the phone or pager numbers for their student’s clinical faculty. Clinical faculty need to have a physical presence and visit the student while they are in the clinical area with the preceptor. The frequency of the meetings should be adjusted based on student ability, location of clinical site, and comfort the faculty and preceptor have with the preceptor/student relationship. If clinical faculty are going to be away and not able to respond to a call then they will make arrangements for coverage with other clinical faculty. At a minimum, with a student that is meeting all course objectives, this meeting should happen every week.

Who conducts the clinical seminars and what content is covered?

Each clinical faculty is responsible for conducting clinical seminars on a regular basis with their clinical group. This includes the scheduling of meetings times and rooms. Eight hours of clinical time is given in the course for these seminars. This clinical time is in addition to the 312 hours of student clinical time on the unit. Clinical faculty have the freedom to structure the content of the seminars in a manner that meets the needs of their group. Topics found helpful to review in seminar include: development of personal objectives, review of clinical activities, incorporation of research in clinical, discussion of areas of leadership and management where students are having difficulty. At the end of the semester, clinical seminars are the time when students present their case students or clinical projects.

What do the clinical faculty want in the student’s journals?

Students are required to keep a journal of their clinical activities as part of this course. Clinical faculty are responsible for providing direction and guidance regarding the content and structure of the student’s journaling activities. As preceptors you may find students asking you questions about your professional background, unit communication patterns, the institutions nursing management, and other topics. Many times these are areas clinical faculty want students to include in their journals. As a preceptor you should feel free to question the student about their journal and to add to or supplement the journaling requirements from the clinical faculty.

How is the student clinical performance evaluated and who does this?

Each time the preceptor interacts with the student they should be identifying and evaluating how the student is meeting the course objectives and expectations. Structured evaluations occur at mid-semester and the end of the semester. It is the faculty role to schedule and conduct the student evaluation. This is done in a meeting with both the student and the preceptor. Using the evaluation form, the preceptor, student, and faculty review what the student has done to meet each criteria. The criteria have been established to reflect the goals of the course. Written descriptors are included in the course syllabus if there are questions about whether the student has met the criteria. At the conclusion of the evaluation the preceptor and student should both sign it.

The evaluation form is a concise list of what each student must demonstrate to pass the course. Criteria with a * are those that the student must do at a satisfactory level. Failure to do any of these criteria can result in failure of the course. Those criteria that do not have a * are designated as non-critical. Students are strongly encouraged to demonstrate their ability to meet these criteria. There are no set criteria about how many of the non-critical criteria the student may fail and still pass the course. This is left to the judgment of the clinical faculty and the preceptor.

Placing a check in the appropriate box indicates how the student is meeting each criteria. If the student is satisfactorily meeting a criteria then the S box is checked. If the student has not been able to demonstrate their ability to meet the criteria, despite repeated attempts, then the U box should be checked. At the mid semester evaluation there is also an option for N. This designates "Not Yet". It is not expected that all students will be meeting all criteria at mid-semester. The N option indicates those criteria where the student has not had an opportunity to demonstrate their competence.

The determination of a student’s demonstrated competency is subjective and varies depending on the type of unit and the expectations of that unit. While we do expect that students will be able to satisfactorily perform the majority of the roles of an RN on that unit, we do not expect that students will perform at the level of an experienced RN. One criteria that preceptors have used to assess overall student competency is to ask themselves, how comfortable would I feel about this person’s ability if I had to work with them every day?

Copies of the evaluation can be given to the student and preceptor if desired. The faculty member keeps the original evaluation. Preceptors who are working with a student who is not demonstrating the ability to successfully complete the course should contact the clinical faculty member as soon as deficits are seen to discuss their concerns and develop a plan of action. The clinical faculty is ultimately the one who must decide if the student is performing at a satisfactory level.

What should I do if I have concerns about the student’s professional conduct?

The ability of all students to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with appropriate professional nurse expectations is expected by the clinical faculty. Students who fail to treat their patients, families, significant others, preceptors, nursing staff, fellow class mates and clinical faculty with respect are subject to not only course failure but also a further review of their activities by the School of Nursing PROFITS committee (See course syllabus about PROFITS). This same standard of behavior is expected when dealing with information of a confidential nature.

Preceptors who have any concerns about a students conduct in any of these areas should contact the clinical faculty member immediately.

How are the Professional Practicum Course, the clinical faculty, the clinical facility and the preceptor evaluated?

Each year a formal evaluation of the Professional Practicum course is completed. Each student is asked to complete an evaluation of the course, their clinical faculty, preceptor, and the facility where they completed their practicum. In addition, each preceptor is given the opportunity to evaluate the student, clinical faculty, and course. The evaluations are standardized but do include areas for written responses. Course evaluations are compiled and appropriate copies returned to the clinical faculty and others as outlined by School of Nursing policy. Written feedback is also supplied to the various participating institutions for their review. Course clinical faculty are responsible for seeing that each student and preceptor have the opportunity to complete a course evaluation. As the opportunity for on-line course evaluations becomes available these will be reviewed and incorporated. All precautions are taken to insure that those people completing an evaluation remain anonymous.

How do I give constructive feedback to a student?

It is important to tell the student when they have completed an activity in a well organized, well though out manner. But it is also important to correct the actions of the student or their thought processes if they are incorrect. A good way to approach this is in the “sandwich method”. That is tell the student something they did well, then where the corrections need to be made and then end with a positive statement. Such as:

“I thought that your approach to that patient went well. Your history was very good and complete. However, your differentials were very limited- you need to think of all the possibilities and not just the obvious. I think that this skill will improve as you go along so just keep your mind open to the possibilities.”

What should I do with a student that is difficult to talk to and provide feedback?

The best way to deal with this type of student is to lay down some boundaries such as: “I have some suggestions for you that I think will improve your practice. I want you to listen to them all before you respond.” If you feel that you cannot communicate with the student this would be a good time to talk with the student’s faculty on suggestions in dealing with the student.

What if my suggestions are ignored?

If there is ever a time that you feel that safe patient practice is not occurring between the student and the patient you should notify the faculty immediately. If your suggestions are being ignored but patient safety is not being compromised then discuss this with the student at the next evaluation time.

Do I have to evaluate the student? I do not want to be the one to determine their grade.

In many classes the clinical component is pass/fail. In others the preceptor’s evaluation comprises only a small portion of the grade. That being said though, it is important that you give the student honest feedback on the clinical performance and that you score the evaluation appropriately. Most faculty do not believe that all students perform at the top level of the evaluation scale and when they receive evaluations stating such they question the accuracy. So it is far better to score the evaluation appropriately and then tell the student where they can improve.

How can I encourage the student to problem solve for each patient rather than just do what I do?

As you precept the student, avoid giving them the answers that you think are right. Ask open ended questions such as "What do you think is going on here?" and "How do you think this needs to be treated?" After they have given you their thoughts then you can agree or suggest new ways to deal with the issues. Make sure that you ask them for their plans first.

The majority of my practice is cultural diverse. How can I help the student become competent in dealing with different cultures?

This is not easy nor do the faculty expect the student to be "competent" by the end of one rotation with you. Ways that you can help the student though is to allow the student to spend a little extra time with some of those patients that are of a different culture. You may want to pose some questions to the student that they can discuss with the patient to understand their culture. It is always appropriate to refer the student to the literature to read about a particular culture and their customs. The more cultures that the student can be exposed to promotes learning.

The student asks a lot of questions about the profession and I do not know the questions sometimes. What should I do?

Honesty with the student is always the best policy. If you do not know about a professional issue refer the student to one of the professional organization websites such as the AANP or the state nurses’ association. But when a student asks such a question it generally means that they respect what you have to say as a professional and they look to you as a mentor. They see you as a professional nurse in a career that they want to be in as well.

How can I help the student understand the diversity that is in my practice?

At every opportunity discuss the diversity with the student. Whether it is the billing and the limitations that you have in providing care or it is because of SES or ethnicity, discuss the issues with the student. For many students this may be the first time that they are caring for someone very unlike themselves. Allow them time to discuss their thoughts on the diversity and think through their responses to these issues.

I have been asked to precept and I am in an evidence based practice. How can I teach this to my student?

When a student is asked what decision they have made about a treatment plan, ask at that time "What did you based you decision on?" If they are unable to verbalize that refer them to a book or a web resource in EBP. OR discuss with them the evidence of why you have chosen the particular treatment or management decision. Think aloud with the student. Allow them to listen to you tell them how you came to the decision that you are implementing.

Last modified: Jul 07, 2015
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