LAS VEGAS — A lack of primary care preceptors has created a multi-tiered problem for many nurse practitioner programs, but a new pilot program from the University of Cincinnati that leverages technology and community partnerships may help bridge that gap in training.

“The preceptor shortage is a well known problem among educators and preceptors,” said Nicole F. Garritano, MN, APRN, CPNP-AC , of the University of Cincinnati, at the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners 2015 meeting.

“We’re seeing that qualified student applicants aren’t always accepted into programs because we can’t guarantee there will be a clinical spot for these students.”

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It’s not only future students that have been affected by this shortage. Garritano noticed that current students were also facing difficulties. “I was disheartened because I was at a point where I didn’t want to hinder [current students’] graduation date because there weren’t any readily available preceptors.”

Garritano looked to the tools she had at her disposal — the University of Cincinnati already used the educational technology platform BlackBoard, and the school’s existing interest in community partnerships — and developed an alternative clinical experience to help mitigate the shortage of preceptors.

Garritano developed six pediatric primary care modules in BlackBoard that students had to complete in preparation for hands-on clinical work. For the time the students spent on the modules, they accrued a certain amount of clinical hours.  The students were required to identify a child they could perform a well-child examination on — whether it be their own child, niece, nephew or family friend — and recorded the visits on their iPad. The video and clinical note were then submitted for grading via BlackBoard.

Although the College of Nursing had existing relationships with several community partners, Garritano began developing new partnerships. “We got creative with where we could send students,” said Garritano. These new partnerships included different specialty clinics and medical camps where students could earn clinical hours.

“All of that culminated together into their final clinical experience”, said Garritano. “I leveraged technology, existing and potential relationships, and put those all together to develop an alternative clinical experience for these students.”

For NPs looking into establishing their own alternative clinical program, Garritano has several suggestions:

  • Look into existing technology like BlackBoard
  • Examine different community partnerships
  • Reconsider the traditional preceptor-student dynamic

“There will always be a place for the traditional preceptor-student relationship, but it doesn’t mean that all the clinical hours a student completes must be one-on-one time,” said Garritano. “There are so many outlets to find alternative clinical settings.”

Looking forward

The first round of the pilot program ended in August 2014, and Garritano used feedback from the students and the community partners involved to develop the second round. The pilot program secured grant funding and a new partner, the university’s College of Medicine, and now includes standardized patient experiences, including head-to-toe well-child examinations using child actors among the students.

Because of the positive feedback and opportunity within the community, Garritano also expanded those relationships. “We’re doing well-child exams and providing education for underserved families who may not have these health resources available to them through various community agencies,” she said.