A critical task for all preceptors is to provide feedback to students on their performance during the practicum. Feedback includes comments on areas of strengths and challenges presented in a constructive manner. Preceptors should have knowledge of the program curriculum as well as the course objectives and the student’s personal objectives for the current semester. Reviewing these objectives and developing a plan will help the student remain successful. It is important to understand that graduate students are expert nurses, growing into a new role, and being back in the role of a novice is an adjustment for many adult learners. Here are some guidelines to help you with the evaluation process.
Formative feedback helps form student behavior. Preceptors give this ongoing feedback, based on a student's performance that either supports or improves practice, to the student. This might include:
- Case presentations of a problem, a patient the student examined, or a situation of concern the student witnessed.
- Talking about clinical leadership problems, knowledge gaps, and/or diagnoses.
- Understanding “zebras” or things that a student cannot afford to miss.
- Collaborating on a treatment plan, leadership strategy, or problem resolution.
- Informal feedback—giving the student “pearls” to further improve professional skill set.
- Questioning exercises
- Quizzing the student "on the spot" about content the student studied.
- Providing scenarios that might occur and asking how the student would respond.
- Mid-term evaluation
- Helps the student identify "where they are," personal strengths, and areas for improvements.
- Uses the same criteria as the final evaluation to allow student’s strengths and challenges to surface.
- Helps gauge progression toward meeting the learning experience objectives.
Give formative feedback each time you work with a student. Formative feedback can help students identify strengths as well as opportunities for new learning or correction of "off-track" areas. Feedback may be as simple as "Good job today!" or "You provided great input for the leadership meeting discussion today," or much more detailed if you are coaching the student through a difficult situation. Feedback is crucial throughout the student’s clinical experience. Here are guidelines for effective and constructive feedback:
- Be specific with your comments—avoid generalities.
- Be descriptive about what would improve the student's performance.
- Focus on modifiable behaviors, not on personality.
- Comment as soon as possible after the performance.
- Speak with the student in a private place.
- Comment every time you work with the student.
Constructive comments should be neutral and not labeled positive or negative. It is for students to "take it or leave it." Everyone interprets feedback in their own context. Please be considerate, non-judgmental, and straightforward when providing feedback. By setting goals each clinical day, revisiting the goals at the end of each day, and providing the student with constructive feedback about that day's activities and performance, you gain valuable information about the student's progress and the structure of the clinical day in addition to experience in meeting a student’s needs.
While the preceptor is not generally assigning a "grade" to a student, as that is the faculty's responsibility, the preceptor evaluation of the student is likely to be important in the faculty's decision regarding the course grade and final course evaluation of the student. However, other assignments outside of the clinical experience are included in course grade determination. Summative evaluations take place at the end of a semester or rotation and measures progress towards competency achievement. The final goal is competence, not expertise, as a graduate-prepared advanced practice nurse or nurse leader by the end of the program.