Ready, Set, Go! Leadership and Precepting in Medical Settings: Tips for Success

Brought to you by Encompass Health

In the dynamic environment of health care, preceptors play a vital role in the culture of health care organizations. Becoming an effective leader within your organization takes purpose, intentionality, and planning. Preceptorship can help you develop the skills needed to be a leader within your medical setting and transition into the role of manager or other leadership position. 

Encompass Health’s inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRFs) serve patients with a wide variety of medical conditions that may require speech-language pathology services, and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are a unique component of the interdisciplinary team. When SLPs serve as preceptors, they can further develop their leadership skills and offer valuable input to improve the quality and safety of patient care. 

What Is a Preceptor?

Precepting is a common practice within the nursing profession and is becoming more frequent in other therapy and health care models, including speech-language pathology. Preceptors help students and new staff with onboarding and orientation processes—with the goal of helping those new staff members (a) develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills and (b) incorporate evidenced-based practice and decision-making skills. These skills are needed in any clinical setting to transition a staff member from a novice clinician to an independent, skilled clinician within that setting.

The ASHA Dysphagia Competency Verification Tool (DCVT) defines a preceptor as “a practicing clinician with the desired skills and knowledge designated to give personal instruction, training and supervision to the clinician-in-training. When possible, the preceptor should be available on site to directly observe the skills being assessed.”

In the scope of speech-language pathology practice, preceptorship can take different forms depending on the setting, including providing basic clinical skills, advanced clinical skills (e.g., Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study, Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing), and mentorship even in non-clinical roles.

SLP-Specific Precepting and Leadership Opportunities

There are many ways that you can develop leadership and precepting skills as an SLP in a medical setting. Here are a few examples:

  • clinical instructor of graduate students
  • clinical fellowship year mentor
  • mentor for a new employee/orientee
  • organizer of disorder- or disease-specific support groups
  • volunteer positions within your regional, state, or national organizations (including Special Interest Group positions)
  • hospital educator
  • guest lecturer at local universities or community hospitals
  • committee chair within your specific medical model (patient safety champion, member of Falls Committee, etc.)

How Do I Become a Preceptor?

If you think you’re interested in pursuing leadership opportunities in your career, then preceptorship and mentoring are helpful and natural steps to take.

Once you decide which avenue you wish to pursue, it’s important to reach out and connect with leaders in that area. You may decide to speak with your supervisor, other leaders where you work, and/or faculty members from nearby universities with speech-language pathology programs.

You don’t need to limit your networking to only SLPs; reach out to any leaders who may be able to help you find preceptor or mentoring opportunities. Such professionals may include nursing leaders, hospital educators, or human resources directors.

Casting a wide net will help you increase your opportunities to develop relationships with an array of leaders and also can promote speech-language pathology leadership in interdisciplinary functions across health care.  

What Makes a Successful Preceptor?

SLPs who are thinking about taking a step forward in leadership often wonder if they’re able and ready to become a preceptor. You don’t need to have decades of experience as an SLP to be a great preceptor! Studies suggest that effective and efficient preceptors may possess these skills:

  • Excellent communication skills. They ask questions that direct self-reflection and facilitate progress toward goals.
  • Good listening and interpersonal skills. These skills include empathy, diplomacy, and the ability to read the dynamics of each situation.
  • Strong negotiation, conflict management, and resolution skills.
  • Ability to act as a positive role model. They are skilled at adapting teaching styles to best meet each learner’s needs.
  • Ability to provide direct and detailed feedback.
  • Ability to promote a systematic problem-solving approach and incorporate evidenced-based practice for improved accountability.

No preceptor begins their journey with perfect skills. It is a journey of leadership development for you as a preceptor. The important first step is to be aware of and willing to develop these qualities in yourself.

How does precepting improve leadership skills?

  • Precepting helps students and new staff apply didactic knowledge to real-life clinical settings. Precepting can also help orient seasoned clinicians to new health care models. Thus, precepting allows you to learn how to best fine-tune and adapt your teaching and instruction style to meet each learner’s needs.
  • Precepting improves accountability for health care delivery models and focuses on functional outcomes.
  • Precepting both challenges and improves your written and oral communication skills.
  • Precepting maximizes your ability to prioritize, direct, and delegate tasks.
  • Precepting allows you to gain experience supervising teams and individuals within each team.
  • Precepting can foster collaboration and teamwork and can develop new, improved interprofessional teams.

With time and experience, the skills gained from precepting others can enhance your own clinical skills, your non-clinical professional skills, and your leadership potential.

Resources and References

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). ASHA Dysphagia Competency Verification Tool user’s guide. [PDF]

Loughran, M. C., & Koharchik, L. (2019, May). Ensuring a successful preceptorship. AJN, American Journal of Nursing, 119(5), 61–65.

Pilling, S., & Slattery, J. (2004). Management competencies: Intrinsic or acquired? What competencies are required to move into speech pathology management and beyond? Australian Health Review, 27(1), 84–92.

Sherrod, D., Holland, C., & Battle, L. H. (2020). Nurse preceptors: A valuable resource for adapting staff to change. Nursing Management, 51(3), 50–53.