Frances has just completed her mental health nursing preceptorship at Alternative Futures Group’s independent mental health hospital in Bolton.

A preceptorship is a period to guide, develop and support all newly registered practitioners to build confidence and competence as they transition from student to autonomous professional.

We spoke to her and her preceptor Chris about what to expect from the programme at AFG.

Frances – Preceptee

How did you get in to nursing and come to do your preceptorship at AFG?

I had worked as a healthcare assistant in the NHS for around 16 years, and then spent two years working as a mental health clinical support worker. I quickly realised that I really enjoyed working in mental health – it is something that had always been a taboo topic in my culture and would be considered as a spiritual issue rather than a medical one.

I decided I wanted to focus on working in mental health because if I could make a change for even one person from a community like my own, it would be worth it – particularly with men where the topic is especially taboo.

I did my management placement at Oak Lodge, AFG’s mental health hospital in Bolton, in my final year of nurse training at Salford University and was successful in applying for a full time role.

What did the preceptorship involve?

I met with my preceptor Chris and she explained the programme and that I would be working with her and the other qualified nurses to pick up daily tasks with close supervision at first.

This included administering medication, coordinating shifts as the nurse in charge, giving and taking handovers, allocating shifts to support staff, supporting patients with their hospital appointments, working with care coordinators to support patients with their housing, a real mix.

I had a named patient which I worked closely with, so every Monday there would be a multidisciplinary team meeting where we would review his care plan, risk assessments and the best approaches to support him with his physical health, self-care and domestic tasks like cooking meals, tidying his room and taking part in hospital activities.

Would you recommend doing the programme to others and why?

I would absolutely recommend AFG’s preceptorship programme. I had brilliant support during my placement and the preceptorship programme, and still do! One of the AFG values is ‘we take ownership’ and it really felt like everyone did, it wasn’t just something they said. I was supported by the whole team to succeed.

You are never made to feel stupid for asking something. I have done placements in other settings during my degree, and it often felt that the team were too busy to give you any support, but here people will always make time for you – even if they have to say they’re in the middle of something, they will come back to you.

I am proud to have completed the programme within 4 months and I have no plans to leave!

Chris – Preceptor

How did you get into nursing and come to be a preceptor at AFG?

I’ve worked for AFG as a Senior Nurse Practitioner for 18 months and have a 25-year career in nursing. I’ve always been interested in mental health and have experience of working with patients with a forensic background and challenging behaviours. As my career progressed, I found I really enjoyed the community rehabilitation side which is what attracted me to this role.

Preceptorships are an important period of support when newly qualified nurses are first going out on the wards, to ensure everyone is safe and confident enough to work on their own. Historically, nurses would be handed the keys to a ward and told to get on with it! This did result in a lot of nurses leaving the profession early on in their careers due to the stress of expectations put on them so soon after qualifying.

I have always enjoyed supporting people to develop so was happy to take on the preceptor role and find it very rewarding – especially in cases like Frances’ where she had done her student placement here, and now runs shifts completely independently.

What can people expect from the preceptorship programme at AFG?

We have a robust programme which has had great success and feedback both from our preceptees and our staff team.

Our primary aim is to be person-centred in everything we do, and this of course includes supporting new colleagues so we will make sure that time is taken out to help that person develop. It’s not just about getting through a busy shift.

The programme covers all competencies for the role – medication management, understanding the mental health act, care planning and so on – initially with close supervision, which then reduces as the programme goes on. The programme takes around six months on average but can be shorter than this – Frances for example was finished within four.

What advice would you give to a nurse in training?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – whether that is to your preceptor or any of the other staff team. They are there to support you and help you succeed.

It is important that you understand what is expected of you – ultimately the programme is about the preceptee and their individual development, so it is in their hands to ensure they get what they need to out of it. If there is an area that you particularly want support in, ask for it – and enjoy the experience!