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How will a unit-specific competency-based orientation program benefit the new nursing staff coming to my unit?

A: Orientations cover information about organization and unit culture, job descriptions or functional statements, policies and procedures, equipment operations, and initial competencies. When determining what to include in the unit-based orientation, preceptors help managers, nurse educators, and staff development specialists analyze the ongoing competency needs of new nurses and student nurses for individual units and practice settings.

The purpose of an orientation is to:

  • Determine the essential functions of the job and what knowledge, skills, and abilities are required for preceptees to be successful
  • Assess what knowledge, skills, and abilities preceptees bring with them
  • Determine what is preferred versus what is required, identifying what knowledge, skills, and abilities preceptees need to meet their new roles and responsibilities
  • Select the training preceptees need to meet their new roles and responsibilties

The unit-specific competency-based orientation is a time for preceptors to introduce preceptees to their new jobs, practice settings, managers, and coworkers. Preceptors help design orientation outlines, skills checklists, reflective discussions, and other verification methods to provide positive preceptee experiences that are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, relative, and timely. Unit-specific competency-based orientations:

  • Assist preceptees in adapting to new practice settings
  • Verify preceptees' initial competencies and skills to perform their new duties
  • Communicate the history, philosophy, mission, vision, and values of the organization, the department, and the assigned unit or area of practice
  • Reduce the amount of time to bring preceptees to full productivity in their new roles

Competency-based orientations offer numerous advantages for preceptorships. They give clear guidelines regarding competency expectations and can decrease the amount of time spent in orientation for more experienced/skilled preceptees, such as those who have worked in the organization/nursing department but recently transferred from another department or unit. Preceptees who have difficulty completing their initial competencies are quickly identified. Preceptors can review the competence verification form with preceptees to provide timely feedback on progress and remediate/restructure their clinical experiences to address those deficits or problem areas.

Diana Swihart, PhD, DMin, MSN, CS, RN-BC

(February 2010)