I just attended a meeting of deans and program directors at colleges and universities that offer Doctor of Nuring Practice (DNP) degrees. Many challenges we face in the graduate education of nurses today were discussed, but one thing seemed universal: Trouble finding enough clinical placements and preceptors for our students. 

There are many reasons for this, and I hope some of them can be overcome. Graduate schools are trying to meet the anticipated needs for an increase in primary care practitioners due to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, so they are increasing enrollments when possible.  This, of course, increases the number of clinical placements needed for students. Furthermore, there is often more than one school operating in the same city or geographic area.

Another concern among some practice managers is that having students present in the practice will somehow diminish the patients’ experience or slow the provider down, therefore cutting into productivity. This is also a legitimate concern for many practitioners. 

It is important that we all take a minute to remember when we were in school and hoping to learn enough to pass the certification exam to become a nurse practitioner. Do you remember how excited (sometimes even worried or afraid) you were when you went to a new clinical setting, and how much each preceptor meant to you? Remember what they taught you about prevention, health promotion and disease management? Remember how valuable it was to watch them interact with their patients?

I had a preceptor in pediatrics that changed the course of my career. I had been a nurse in the perinatal area and felt like women’s health was my forte. But when I was placed with my preceptor in pediatrics at a federally funded underserved clinic, I knew I had found my home as a clinician. The things I learned from my preceptor cannot be taught in textbooks. In fact, my very first opinion column for The Clinical Advisor 13 years ago (“We need preceptors.” Clinical Advisor.1999; 3:80.) is about this experience. It is as important now as it was then.

Without practicing nurse practitioners partnering with schools, students becoming nurse practitioners is just not possible.  The universities and colleges whose students you precept owe you. Unfortunately, most of them cannot express their gratitude monetarily. I hope they at least say thank you. I know many who precept do it out of the goodness of their hearts and because they are professionals.

Current students need you now, just like you needed a preceptor when you were in school. If you are taking a student into your practice this fall, I thank you, even though you may not be taking my students. 

If you were not planning to precept a student this year, but have the ability change your decision or influence the person in your practice who makes that choice, I’d like to ask you to reconsider. Think about giving back and doing what others did for you when you were a student. Paying it forward is always a good thing, especially if you do so for your alma mater!

Julee B. Waldrop, DNP, FNP, PNP, is the Director of the MSN-DNP Program and an associate professor at the University of Central Florida. She provides health care to children at a local community health center.