About Emily Weston, MSN, PMHNP-BC: Emily Weston is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Wentworth Health Partners, where she provides medication consultations, prescriptions, and guidance; mental health assessments, and behavioral health care services and care coordination. Before her position at Wentworth Health Partners, Ms. Weston was a Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Great Bay Mental Health Associates and at Avis Goodwin Community Health Center, where she performed diagnostic evaluations, provided behavioral health services, and managed the medications for adolescent and adult patients. Prior to becoming a PMHNP, Ms. Weston worked for almost two years in an inpatient psychiatric setting as a Registered Nurse for Holy Family Hospital, where she cared for patients on a locked Behavioral Health Unit, supporting patients in group settings and maintaining safe environments for patients on suicide precautions.
Ms. Weston received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from the University of Southern Maine in 2004 and her Masters of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2010. Prior to her MSN program, Ms. Weston worked as a Registered Nurse for Wentworth-Douglas Hospital in two Cardiac Telemetry Units, the hospital’s Emergency Holding Room, and the Surgical Unit, where she provided care to critically ill patients, provided guidance to new nurses, and participated in the Transforming Care at the Bedside Committee.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Could you please describe your past and current responsibilities as a preceptor? How do you collaborate with your students to set learning objectives for the academic term, what kinds of tasks/responsibilities are your students expected to take on, and what kinds of guidance do you provide them with?
[Emily Weston, MSN, PMHNP-BC] The main responsibility as a preceptor is to make sure your student has a good understanding of the role and responsibilities that you have as an advanced practice nurse. Students have always come to me with a set of objectives laid out by their professors. We will look at these together and come up with a plan for the semester as to how we will meet the objectives.
The tasks that a student takes on depend on if they are in their first or second year of clinical. First year students are mostly observing and asking questions. Second year students start to conduct interviews with patients and do clinical documentation. They will also see some patients for psychotherapy independently, documenting those visits. I am observing most of the visits a student will have with patients since they are unable to prescribe medications, so during those visits I can help in the clinical decision making process. I may ask more questions to help with this process, or lead the student in the right direction. When they see psychotherapy patients independently, we may discuss a care plan before the visit and then talk about the visit afterward. I also review and sign the clinical documentation.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] In your opinion, what is the ideal working relationship between preceptor and student? Is it more collegial or is it structured more like a mentor-mentee relationship? How frequently do you typically interact with your students on a daily and weekly basis, and for what span of time during students’ clinical placements?
[Emily Weston, MSN, PMHNP-BC] The ideal working relationship between preceptor and student should be collegial, in my opinion. We are after all going to be colleagues at the end of it. I usually give my students my cell phone number and email address so we can communicate regarding their schedule or other needs they may have. I have had a total of four students working with me over the course of the last 5 years. Some I have had for one semester, others for two semesters. In my experience, the first year of clinical is one semester, mostly observation, and is spent with one preceptor. The second year, there are two semesters of clinical internship. Both semesters are usually with the same preceptor and students are expected to be participating and doing more with patients as the year goes on. I have kept in touch with all of the students I have precepted for. We spent a lot of time together, multiple days a week for three to up to eight months at a time.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What are some of the primary questions and concerns your students have when preparing for and completing their clinical placements? How do you help your students address these concerns?
[Emily Weston, MSN, PMHNP-BC] The most common concern that students have is whether or not they will be prepared to practice independently after finishing school. I try to encourage them to take a job in a situation where they will have support from colleagues. I had a professor in graduate school that used to tell us, “Never worry alone.” If you have a patient you are concerned about and aren’t sure what to do, discuss it with a colleague, don’t “worry alone.” I also advise looking things up if you aren’t sure. There is no shame in using reference guides. I still do that on a daily basis.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What have been some of your most educational and/or rewarding experiences thus far as a preceptor? On the other hand, what challenges have you encountered as a preceptor, and how have you managed these challenges?
[Emily Weston, MSN, PMHNP-BC] The most rewarding experience as a preceptor is hearing from students after they have been practicing and hearing how well they are doing. I recently ran into one of my former students at a conference and she told me she was starting her own practice. It makes me feel good that I could be a part of that. The challenge of precepting is always that initial “getting to know each other” time. It can be awkward if personalities clash a little. It has certainly happened before with students I have had, but it generally works itself out with time.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] For current and prospective MSN students, what advice do you have for them in terms of making the most of their clinical placements?
[Emily Weston, MSN, PMHNP-BC] Try to find clinical placements that resemble a place you might want to practice after graduation. You can often find a job that way. I got hired at one of the agencies I was a student at and worked there for five years. If you’re not sure what type of environment you would like to practice in, I would advise trying different kinds of placements to try to figure that out. A great way to supplement learning experiences is to work as a RN in the psychiatric field while you are in school. I worked on a psychiatric unit which helped me to realize I would be more suited to work in the outpatient setting. I can also tell patients what to expect if they need to be hospitalized.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What advice do you have for nurse practitioners who would like to become preceptors, in terms of preparing for this role? Why did you decide to become a clinical preceptor, and what steps did you have to take to become a preceptor?
[Emily Weston, MSN, PMHNP-BC] I became a preceptor when a professor of mine from graduate school called and asked if I would do her a favor by precepting a student. I was very nervous to do it. I had only been practicing about a year at the time. But I discovered that I really enjoyed precepting students. It kept me on my toes and I continued to learn with my student. There was no formal training to become a preceptor so I tried to teach what I would have wanted to know coming out of school into practice. It was a great way to enhance my practice while gaining continuing education credits in the process. If you like mentoring or training others at work, precepting may be right for you.
Thank you Ms. Weston for participating in our preceptor interview series!