Background. To date no research has been conducted to examine the process used in the preceptorship experience to enhance critical thinking at the graduate level. This study provides data that could revitalize the preceptor/learner relationship and in turn influence future preceptorship programmes in graduate nursing education.
Aim. The purpose of this study was to examine the preceptorship experience and its role in the enhancement of critical thinking in graduate nursing education.
Design. A grounded theory approach was employed, through semi-structured, tape-recorded interviews. Overall, 45 interviews were completed with graduate nursing students ranging in age from 26 to 53 years, and master's and doctorally prepared preceptors who ranged in age from 47 to 58 years. In addition, a journal of personal reflections was kept by each of the researchers. Analysis of data included the process of open coding, theoretical coding, selective coding, reduction and comparison.
Findings. Data revealed that a process, designated The Relational Process, occurred in the preceptorship experience to enhance the critical thinking ability of graduate nursing students. This process was found to be a complex, ongoing interpersonal dynamic between the graduate student and assigned preceptor.
Conclusions. The relational process that emerged from this study indicates that specific preceptor behaviours are pivotal to the enhancement of critical thinking of graduate nursing students and ultimately impact on the success or failure of the preceptorship experience.