The Preceptor-Student Relationship

The preceptor-student relationship is an indispensable tool for training future healthcare providers.

The preceptor-student relationship is an indispensable tool for training future healthcare providers. This relationship is intended to teach students the kind of intricacies of the profession that cannot be taught in the classroom. Students can learn, for example, to intubate dozens of manikin heads in the airway lab, but that will only teach a technique. It will not teach students how to wade through vomit to find the trachea or how every person’s airway sits slightly different. But when the preceptor is in the trenches, he can guide students through that first real intubation.

What Is Expected?

Students at all levels must be willing to learn. They also need to communicate with the preceptor where they are in their studies and any particular strengths or weaknesses that they are aware of. For example, a student may say that he is comfortable with the bandaging and splinting skills he learned in class and would like to practice them in the field if the opportunity arises, but that he feels weak in patient-assessment skills and will need help before he can perform them independently.

Preceptors should find out from their students what they hope to achieve during their ride time. This helps meet as many expectations as possible and address unrealistic ones.

EMT-Basic Level

Many EMT-Basic students have never been on an ambulance before. They can be excited and intimidated by the prospect of their ride time. The preceptor should expect few skills from students at this level, but will be able to teach them many things.


Students should be expected to show up to their assigned shifts on time and ready to work, and to act professionally. While professionalism may come naturally to some people, for many it is a hard-learned skill. Some students may need to polish their appearance to become more presentable to the public. Others may have an abrasive tongue that needs to be more pleasant at times, such as learning not to use sarcastic or offensive language toward patients. Still others may need to refine their body language to make it more appropriate. For example, crossing their arms or rolling their eyes can communicate to the patient and his family that the EMS responder is not interested in their problems. Thus, professionalism may not be an innate characteristic for everyone, but preceptors can teach it and students can learn it. Being a good role model for students is the most efficient method of teaching them professionalism.

Teaching Subtleties

The preceptor is responsible for ensuring that students master many skills. Preceptors will need to teach the EMT-B student the subtleties of how to assess a scene for safety; how to approach and effectively communicate with a patient and their family members; how to progress a call from beginning to end; and how to communicate with other healthcare professionals. It is in these subtleties that preceptors help students become confident in assessment technique, along with basic procedures like checking vital signs, bandaging, splinting, patient-handling and moving, and even proper use of the stretcher.

As EMT-B students may only be required to ride between 24 and 48 hours to complete the Basic curriculum, preceptors are wise not to demand too much from this level, but to focus on serving as positive role models and reinforcing the knowledge and skills taught in the classroom. EMT-B students are extremely nervous because they do not know what to expect, and they are far from competent or confident in their skills; they need a preceptor’s experience to guide them.

The first several calls that students participate in should be limited to observation only. This allows them to begin to appreciate how a call progresses from beginning to end, and how to properly assess a patient without getting tunneled into performing a specific task.

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