Precepting and symbolic interactionism – a theoretical look at preceptorship during clinical practice


  • Elisabeth Carlson

    1. Elisabeth Carlson MNEd PhD RN Senior Lecturer at Malmö University Department of Care Science, Faculty of Health and Society, Skåne University Hospital, Malmö, Sweden
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carlson e. (2012) Precepting and symbolic interactionism – a theoretical look at preceptorship during clinical practice. Journal of Advanced Nursing69(2), 457–464. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.06047.x


Aim.  To present a discussion of precepting through the use of symbolic interactionism as exemplified by findings from an ethnographic study.

Background.  It is a well-known fact that clinical practice, where students are supervised by precepting nurses, is an important part of nursing education. Several previous studies have stressed the vital role preceptors have for the development of student nurses’ clinical competence. Despite this, few of these findings are discussed from a theoretical standpoint to further explain and illustrate the complexity of preceptorship.

Data sources.  This article builds on findings from an ethnographic study undertaken between November 2006–May 2007 and again between March–September 2009. Full details of the empirical findings have been reported elsewhere.

Discussion.  Precepting can be understood as a trusting relationship between preceptor and student interacting and sharing nursing activities. The participants’ actions will influence and shape the meaning and understanding of these activities.

Implications for nursing.  Precepting is a complex and advanced role for nurses that they need to be properly prepared for. Thus, preceptor preparation needs to be organized in collaboration between healthcare organizations and universities. It is suggested that preceptor preparation programmes should focus on reflection, critical thinking and communication skills.

Conclusion.  Symbolic interactionism can serve as a potential theory that will expand the understanding of and give new perspectives of nursing practice. It would therefore be encouraging to see further testing of suitable theories to interpret empirical findings and create opportunities for practice improvement.