PEARLS from your Preceptor

Clinical year… the light at the end of the tunnel for every didactic student.
So many mixed emotions when it's time to put on that white coat, head out the door, and make your way to that first rotation.
Do you know enough? Will you be pimped? Will your preceptor like you?

You've heard from previous students how to prepare for each rotation, but do you know exactly what your preceptor is looking for? As a women’s health preceptor to clinical PA students for the past 6 years, I can tell you a few things you definitely want to make sure you do on rotations.


First, know that your preceptor would not take students if they didn’t want to. It is important to realize that your preceptor doesn't mind you being there. At the same time, it's important to remember this is their job.  
Your preceptor is seeing patients, treating patients, charting on patients, and sticking to a very structured schedule. Time is valuable- for your preceptor, the patient, and you.  Remember that you are in a clinical environment and there are other people working in the office. You are no better than the people who work at the front desk, and having a humble attitude goes a long way.
The best advice I can give you is to treat every rotation like it’s a job interview. The way you dress, present yourself, and your attitude is always noticed.

Show interest.  Listen, I get it.  Not everyone wants to look at vaginas all day.  However, it’s on your PANCE, and to be a well rounded PA you are expected to get a certain number of clinical hours.  Your attitude makes or breaks your rotation. If you don’t like it, FAKE IT! This goes for all your rotations. Your preceptor obviously enjoys their field of medicine or they wouldn’t be in it- and they definitely wouldn’t be teaching students.  They are taking time out of their day to help you become the best PA you can be. The least you can do is be respectful and thankful, regardless if you like that particular field or not.

Ask questions!  Asking questions is always encouraged, but don’t expect your preceptor to spoon feed you. You have textbooks for a reason. Just because you are no longer in didactic, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick them up and read. If there are topics you are unsure about, write them in your notebook and look them up. After you read about those specific topics and have a general understanding, bring them up to your preceptor...This allow us to have a more in-depth conversation with you and is easier when you already have an understanding of the topic at hand. However, it's important to realize there is an ideal time to ask your questions.
Don’t ask your preceptor questions in front of patients. Teaching you and educating patients are on two different levels. Also, don’t take notes on your phone. I get it, we have technology and should use it. However, when you are in a room with your patient, you should NEVER have your phone. Your patients don’t know if you are answering a text message, taking notes, or online shopping.  Keep a notepad in your coat pocket to write down any questions you may have and anything important your preceptor mentions to you. You can always transfer to your phone at the end of the day.

Be honest. Don’t be scared to say "I don’t know". Listen, we have all been students at one time. We understand the amount of information that was poured into you during didactic. This is your time to learn. As a preceptor I don’t expect you to know everything or have all the answers, but I do expect you to be honest and try.  If you don’t know the answer, go look it up. Don’t wait for your preceptor to tell it to you. Take the initiative and figure it out.

Try Things. Don’t be scared to try things! As providers, we aren’t going to let you do anything that is going to hurt someone. In a few short months, you will be doing these things on your own. Now is your time to practice. Make the most out of it. See one, do one, teach one should be your motto. Ask to draw blood, take vital signs, do I&Ds, start IVs. Tell us what you want to do. Let us know what you want to work on so we can get you the exposure you need.

Remember, you are the one who can make or break your rotation. You have to be proactive as a student to get the most out of your rotation. As a preceptor, I want my students to try, have a good attitude, show up on time, dress appropriately, and be respectful to patients and the office staff. As a preceptor, I will make sure you have all the information you need to pass the women’s health section of your boards and be the best PA you can be. After all, you will soon be a colleague. Know that your relationship with your preceptor can last more than six weeks. We can be your friend, mentor, and biggest cheerleader. We will help you in the future with any questions or job references.  Make sure you keep in touch with your preceptor and don’t ever be afraid to ask!

-Stephanie Howard, PA-C


If you have any comments, questions, or just want to learn more about what Stephanie does every day, check her out on Instagram: @thegyn_pa