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Module 1


Being an effective preceptor

As a preceptor, you are the primary teacher of the resident during their residency with you. Being a good teacher requires that you:

  • Have prepared yourself and the learning environment for the resident's arrival.
  • Understand adult learning principles as they apply to teaching residents.
  • Know how to ask effective questions to promote learning.

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Prepare for the resident.
  • Describe adult learning principles.
  • Ask effective questions.

Preparing for the resident

Good teachers are always prepared. Preparation in advance of the resident's arrival will help foster a positive learning environment for the resident, and make the environment more conducive to clinical teaching.

There are five key areas to prepare:

  1. Prepare your patients.
  2. Prepare your staff.
  3. Prepare your colleagues.
  4. Prepare your clinic.
  5. Prepare yourself.

Read "Preparing Your Office" by Practical Prof, for recommendations on how to prepare in each of these areas.

Adult learning principles

The resident is also an adult, and therefore, adult-learning principles should be applied when teaching. Adult learning theory (andragogy) is based on the premise that adults learn differently than children. The following table (adapted from Preceptor Learning Program) outlines key concepts in adult learning theory as they pertain to clinical teaching of residents:

Key Concept Application to teaching
Residents are self-directed Using learning plans (module 2) allows residents to specify some of the areas they wish to focus on during their residency.
Residents' experiences are a rich resource Ask residents to share information about their previous experience when medical issues are being discussed.
Residents are eager to learn when solving a real-world problem Ask residents to research specific information pertaining to the treatment of a specific patient.
Adult students are eager to apply the information they are learning Have the student determine if a specific treatment is appropriate for a given patient.
Residents are eager to become competent As residents become more confident and competent have them take increasing responsibility in patient care.

Asking effective questions

Being able to ask good questions will help foster learning opportunities for your resident. Effective questions can help you:

  • Determine a resident's current level of knowledge on a particular topic.
  • Engage the resident and help sustain their interest.
  • Promote higher order thinking.
  • Monitor the resident's learning progress.
  • Encourage reflection.

Four key characters of effective question asking techniques are to:

  • Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no; rather, they require the resident to respond in a manner that demonstrates their knowledge or thought processes.
  • Ask questions at an appropriate level. Questions can demonstrate different levels of learning. Questions should be asked that are at the appropriate level for the resident.
  • Allow enough time for the resident to answer. Expecting quick answers to questions doesn't allow the resident time to think about the answer and reduces the depth of thought in the answer provided.
  • Allow residents to not know the answer. If residents feel they must know the answer to every question they may become fearful, which may reduce their learning. When a resident doesn't know the answer, encourage them to learn.

Read "Effective Questioning" by Practical Prof, for a description of the different levels of questioning and examples.

Further reading

For additional information on the topics presented in this module see:


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