SMART Goals for Nursing Students During Preceptorship

Preceptorship for nursing students is the one experience that comes closest to real-world nursing. It is one of the last things you do in nursing school. You will work with patients providing care while being supervised by a nurse who oversees the care of those patients.

Smart goals for nursing students during preceptorship

The nurse (preceptor) will shadow the nursing student in the beginning. Further into the preceptorship, the nursing student will gradually work more independently in taking care of these patients. Of course, the preceptor will always intervene if necessary and act as a safety net.  

During your time precepting, you want to be clear about what you expect from this experience. To determine these expectations, goal setting is one of the most critical steps in the early process before starting your preceptorship. 

The SMART Goal Method 

Using the SMART way to set your goals will be a great way to develop your plans. Here is a quick look at what the acronym means.

  • Specific: Be clear about your goal. Ask yourself the “W” questions about your goals.
  • Measurable: Integrate an element that lets you know when you accomplished your goal.
  • Attainable: Your goal can be slightly out of reach, so you have to work hard to attain it.
  • Realistic: Consider your circumstances when developing your goals and make sure you account for them. 
  • Timely: Set a reasonable deadline for your goal. 

Examples of SMART Objectives Throughout Your Preceptorship 

Simple Goal: I will figure out what my learning style is.

SMART Goal: I will take a free online learning style test to figure out what learning style works best. I will then discuss my findings based on the test and talk to my instructor. I will add any input my instructor offers and figure out what type of learning style suits me best.

When I meet my preceptor, I will relay the information I discovered about my learning style, and together we can work out a teaching/learning style based on that information that works for both of us.

Simple Goal: I want to have a good working relationship with my preceptor.

SMART Goal: I will always be respectful to my preceptor, ask questions, and clarify answers if I don’t understand. After each day, I will ask for feedback and areas that I can improve. I will always convey that I am willing to learn and approach my preceptor’s input with a teachable, open mind. 

Simple Goal: By the end of the second day, I want to work the Pyxis (medication) machine like a pro.

SMART Goal:  I will ask my preceptor to let me pull all the medications unless it is an emergency. I will pay close attention to the number of pills I have to remove and always double-check whether I pulled the right medication. 


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Simple Goal: I want to know where the crash carts, fire extinguishers, Pyxis machines, and linens are. I also want to have the door codes memorized. 

SMART Goal: I will ask my preceptor to show me where all the above items are kept. I will have a basic map of the unit, and I will mark where each item is and carry the paper with me until I learn it. If necessary, I will spend a few minutes of my lunch hour and a little time after work learning where the items are and the quickest way to get to them.

By the end of the first week, I want to have it memorized where everything is.

Simple Goal: I want to connect with the patients.

SMART Goal: I will take an extra 5 minutes that I spend in each patient’s room to find out more about them and connect with them on a personal level. 

To improve my skills, I will take a short course on patient communication skills by the end of the first week of my preceptorship. 

Simple Goal:  I want to learn to give an excellent factual report to the oncoming nurse.

SMART Goal: The first few times, I will watch my preceptor closely and pay attention to the details they pass on when giving report. I will use an SBAR format report sheet so I don’t forget about important information. After each report, I will ask for feedback from my preceptor and take notes. I then try to consider the advice for the next time I give report.

Simple Goa: I want to improve my prioritizing skills

SMART Goal: I will request that my preceptor help me with tips on prioritizing and show me how he/she does it and see if I can use any of their information to help me. I will try to incorporate one tip per day so I don’t overwhelm myself. 

Related: Examples of SMART Goals for Nurse Practitioner Students

Simple Goal: I want to learn good time management skills.

SMART Goal: I know my preceptor is my best source of information, so I will ask them for tools to use on time management. By the end of each week, I want to make a visible improvement in my time management. 

With my preceptor together, I will review all the potential improvement points each week and incorporate these the following week. 

Simple Goal: I want to be comfortable communicating with the physicians.

SMART Goal: Each day, I will practice communicating with the physicians, including calling, paging, and talking to them in person. Whether I call or talk to the doctor personally, I will speak to my preceptor about all the critical information I need to mention and the vital questions I need to ask before each interaction. 

By the end of the third week, I want to talk to the physicians without any cues or help from my preceptor. 

I realize that for new nurses, physicians can be intimidating. I will observe how my preceptor and other nurses and staff interact with the physicians, and I will follow suit.

Simple Goal: I want to be comfortable delegating assignments to the LPNs and certified nursing assistants.

SMART Goal: As a new registered nurse, I am nervous about delegating assignments. Of course, I will ask my preceptor the correct way to hand out tasks. I will also observe how other nurses pass out their duties. I will consider the five rights of delegation each time I delegate a task. 

  • Right task – Consider the scope of practice 
  • Right circumstance – Consider special circumstances of certain patients 
  • Right person – Consider the delegatees skills
  • Right supervision – Request feedback after the completed task
  • Right communication – Ensure the delegatee understands the task

Simple Goal: I want to be able to write my patient notes without information missing.

SMART Goal:  I will ask my preceptor for a list of things that must be in the notes and a list of ones that I can add if it is appropriate given the patient’s situation. 

I will use the ADPIE(assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation) documentation format to ensure a complete note, and I will also use flow sheets to help me keep track of patient information. 

When I’m at home, I will review my notes about documentation daily and ask other students what they have learned about documentation. I then try to apply what I learned the next day. 

By the end of the first month, I want to see progress so that my preceptor only has to do a minimal amount of corrections to my documentation. 

Simple Goal: I want to rotate to the units where I have some difficulty, for example, the cardiac unit. 

SMART Goal: I know that I will be rotating to different units throughout the hospital. I will request that I rotate to units that help me broaden my skill set. For example, if I need help with analyzing heart rhythms, I will ask to spend time on a telemetry floor

Related Reading: 10 Achievable Examples of Nursing Career Goals

Simple Goal: By the end of the first week, I want to feel comfortable giving an injection.

SMART Goal: I will ask my preceptor to allow me to give all the injections to improve my skill and feel confident doing it. I can also practice at home with a syringe and an orange.

Simple Goal: I want to know where the pharmacy, laboratory, imaging center, surgical center, and morgue are.

SMART Goal: By the second week, I will ask my preceptor to give me a tour and show me where all of these places and things I need to find are, and each day after work, I will walk to each one of them until I know where they are without hesitation.

Simple: By the end of the second month, I want to insert IV lines successfully.

SMART: I will request to insert every IV line we have. If I have difficulty inserting IV lines, I will study a chart of the veins and other tip sheets about starting IVs. 

I will ask to spend one day at a unit that starts many IVs, such as the Emergency Department or the Cath lab. 

Summary of Preceptorship SMART Goals

  • Determine your learning style
  • Ensure a good working relationship with your preceptor
  • Become familiar with the Pyxis machine
  • Locate important items on the unit (crash cart, fire extinguisher, etc.)
  • Connect with patients on a personal level
  • Give a well-rounded report to oncoming staff
  • Improve prioritization
  • Improve time management
  • Practice communication with physicians
  • Master delegation
  • Practice documentation
  • Expand your knowledge
  • Administer injections confidently
  • Know your way around the hospital
  • Insert IVs confidently

Image: Cathy Yeulet/123RF

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