Having a cadre of committed community preceptors is essential to every medical school’s mission of educating future physicians. But recruiting, orienting and retaining them is often anything but easy.
Medical school leaders taking part in an AMA Academic Physicians Section webinar outlined tips for success in attracting and holding on to community preceptors, especially in rural areas. At the top of the list: Making the commitment a personal one.
However you establish contact with prospective precepts, the foundation of recruitment is establishing a personal relationship with both the physician and their employer, said William B. Jeffries, III, PhD, vice dean for medical education and vice president for academic affairs at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.
“Relationships are the most important aspect of developing and recruiting rural or any type of preceptor,” Jeffries said. “That means knowing their names, expressing gratitude, addressing any concerns that they have in a timely fashion, and all those things that you would imagine that exist in a personal relationship.”
Pitching a potential preceptor should combine a request for help with the promise of institutional support and personal rewards, he noted.
“I've often said that the most powerful force in medical education is the self-reproductive urge, and that means that physicians are often sympathetic to the notion of fostering young careers in medicine,” Jeffries said.
That includes creating new doctors who “went through a similar pathway and that are just like themselves,” he said. “That's very often the primary motivator for a physician to get involved.”
Another way to reinforce the relationship is to display signage in clinical areas identifying the preceptor as a teacher, Jeffries said.
“This adds to the reputation of the preceptor with their own patients, and we’ve found it's a very effective means of engaging not just the preceptor but the office staff … and also the patients into the educational environment,” he said.
Awards and other forms of recognition, including inclusion in medical school events, also help build the preceptor community, Jeffries added.
“You should make sure that students are aware that they're privileged to be at this site and in an environment where the preceptor is giving up their time,” he said. The relationship should likewise be incorporated into the identity of the organization so that “the preceptor enjoys the cachet of being associated with the medical school.”
Jeffries’ presentation also provided numerous tips for faculty development, curricular evolution and developing perks, as well as minimizing pitfalls.
“Many seemingly perfect sites are scuttled by previous arrangements for other medical students” or nonphysician providers placed there by the physician’s organization “or through personal arrangements with office personnel,” he said. “The presence of these extra learners can lead to preceptor burnout and hard feelings about conflicting agreements and a diluted learning experience.”
Cultural issues also come into play, Jeffries said.
“This generally relates to differences between the standards established by the medical school and those of a private practice environment—there’ll be different expectations for work hours, competency standards, office decorum and other aspects of professionalism,” Jeffries said. “Those things have to be established very clearly. And civil ways to resolve conflicts are essential in creating a successful preceptor relationship.”
The webinar also featured presentations by Claudia S. Chambers, MD, associate dean of medical education at Creighton University’s Phoenix campus, and Tyson Schwab, MD, director of the Rural and Underserved Utah Training Experience at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Each presented lessons learned about recruiting, onboarding and retaining community preceptors, especially in rural areas.
Learn more about how the AMA Academic Physicians Section gives voice to, and advocates on, issues that affect academic physicians.