The University of Central Florida has an outstanding history of producing highly skilled, compassionate and successful nurses. Now UCF is producing high-caliber nurse preceptors throughout the tri-county coastal region in an effort to provide more enriching clinical practice experience for nursing students.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Promise of Nursing, more than 170 registered nurses from 10 hospitals in Brevard, Flagler and Volusia counties completed a new online preceptor education program developed by Judith Ruland, an associate professor in UCF’s College of Nursing.

Ruland, who is a certified nurse educator and has a Ph.D. in education, curriculum and instruction, developed the program in consultation with the college’s clinical agency partners at Bert Fish Memorial Center, Cape Canaveral Hospital, Florida Hospital Fish Memorial, Florida Hospital Flagler, Florida Hospital Ormond Memorial, Florida Hospital Oceanside, Halifax Medical Center, Holmes Regional Medical Center, Palm Bay Hospital and Parrish Medical Center.

The 10-week course teaches participants how to assess individual learning needs, how to evaluate a student’s performance, best practices for nurse-to-nurse or nurse-to-physician communication, and teaching and learning theories and strategies, to name just a few. The online lessons, including 15 videos, are available to the participants for up to two years.

According to the Florida Center for Nursing, the existing shortage of nurse preceptors at clinical sites affects the overall nursing shortage. “Our program is helping to address this shortage by expanding the preceptor pool available to nursing programs throughout the region,” said Jean Leuner, dean of UCF’s College of Nursing. “Our hope is that we spark their interest in teaching. We would love it if the preceptors decided to go back to school for their master’s degree or doctorate and became our next generation of nurse educators,” Ruland added.

“Most nursing schools utilize preceptors to deliver interactive learning experiences at clinical sites. It’s a vital component of an accredited nursing program,” explains Leuner, who secured the funding for the development and initial implementation of the preceptor education program. The student nurse works the same hours as their preceptor, receiving important hands-on experience and valuable mentoring. As the semester progresses, the student gradually takes on more patient care responsibility, transitioning them from student nurse to professional nurse.

The next class of 120 participants will complete the preceptor education program this fall. “We’d like to expand the program to our clinical partners in Orange and Seminole counties, and eventually to hospitals across the state and nation should additional funding be secured,” Leuner said. “The program can be tailored for any health care facility in any market,” she added.

The Promise of Nursing for Central Florida Nursing School Grant Program is administered by the Foundation of the National Student Nurses’ Association. Funding for the grant program was contributed by several hospitals and health care agencies in the Central Florida area, by Johnson & Johnson, and by national companies with an interest in supporting nursing education. The funds were raised at a gala fundraising event sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.