Greater Boston Urology Blog

What Does a Physician Assistant Preceptor Do?

Donna Robbins is one of our long-time physician assistants and works out of the Dedham Care Center. Donna earned her Bachelor of Arts from Colgate University and her Bachelor of Science from SUNY at Stony Brook. She's been working as a physician assistant since 2001.

Donna also serves as an Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Physician Assistant Studies at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and as a Visiting Clinical Instructor at the Young School of Nursing at Regis College.

Donna's physician assistant and nurse practitioner students complete a 5-week clinical rotation under her supervision. During this rotation, students learn how to take a patient's medical history, perform physical exams, compile proper documentation, recognize common GU disease states, and develop treatment plans. They also learn how to do simple urological procedures.

We asked Donna to discuss what being a preceptor at GBU is like.

First, what is a preceptor in healthcare? What do preceptors do?

DONNA ROBBINS: A preceptor is an experienced practitioner who educates medical students in the clinical setting. Our role is to teach students how to assess and manage patients. They are involved with direct patient care in various settings, such as hospitals, medical offices, nursing homes, etc. We also evaluate a student's performance. Preceptors are seen across the medical field, from nursing to physical therapy, physician assistants to medical doctors.

What inspired you to become a preceptor? Did you have to go through training for this role?

DONNA ROBBINS: I have always enjoyed teaching. It's rewarding to see students grow and even exceed expectations. I feel it's so important to help train the next generation of healthcare providers. Personally, I remember being so grateful to those preceptors who took extra time out of their busy schedules to educate me.

Generally, there is no official training required to be a preceptor. However, Regis offers some helpful online education.

How do you balance your clinical responsibilities and teaching duties as a preceptor?

DONNA ROBBINS: Time management can be challenging since having a student with you all day is time-consuming. My first priority is the patient and ensuring I address all their needs. Staying on schedule is important, too. I'll often save charting until after the student leaves for the day. I'll also have a student get started interviewing a patient to get the history while I'm taking care of other clinical duties.

What are some of the learning objectives and outcomes that you expect from your students during the rotation?

DONNA ROBBINS: My number one expectation for my students is to always be reading. For the five weeks that they do their urology rotation with me, I want them to read about and research anything they come across that they're unfamiliar with, from medications to laboratory tests to medical conditions.

I also strongly encourage them to ask questions. This rotation is a great opportunity to learn because they work directly with me the whole time as opposed to other rotations where the students will be part of a team of other students, attending residents, etc. By the end of the rotation, I expect the students to understand and recognize common urological diseases, know when to refer to urology, and recognize urgent medical issues.

How do you assess students' progress and provide them with constructive feedback?

DONNA ROBBINS: I am continuously asking students questions. This shows me their knowledge base, gets them thinking, and highlights their weaknesses. Often, students will realize their weaknesses and do the appropriate reading. Other times, I will explain things in detail or point them in the direction for further research. I also consider feedback from patients and staff here who observe the students.

What are some of the benefits or rewards of being a preceptor?

DONNA ROBBINS: Preceptors are often volunteers in the PA profession. Depending on the program, there may be benefits like getting credits to take courses at the sponsoring university, a monetary stipend, or recognition by receiving the clinical instructor title.

How do patients respond to having students involved in their care?

DONNA ROBBINS: Most patients enjoy the experience. They like helping train students and often point out abnormal physical exam findings, even if they don't pertain to urology. They often try to educate my students on their disease states. They often ask me afterward if the student got the diagnosis right.

Surprisingly, many patients will let students learn minor procedures, like phlebotomy, while in the office. If a patient is uncomfortable having a student do a procedure, it is still educational for the student to watch my technique. Occasionally, patients will not want a student involved, which we respect. Just a side note to all patients reading this: you can always decline having a student in the room.

How do you foster a positive and collaborative learning environment for your students?

DONNA ROBBINS: I try to be very positive with the students. I give a lot of praise for their successes. If they don't know the answer to a question, I tell them it's OK and let's figure it out together. Across the board, all medical students need to improve their confidence. I feel this is done best in a positive environment.

Is there anything else you'd like to convey?

DONNA ROBBINS: I would like to encourage anyone who's ever considered being a preceptor to give it a try. Yes, it is time-consuming, but it's highly rewarding. The students are always grateful for any teaching, no matter the topic.

Read past articles featuring our talented physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

We have a team of talented physician assistants and nurse practitioners at GBU. Below are links to other articles:


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