10 Tips to Guide: When Should I Take A Break From Precepting Students

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Last month, we chatted about 10 tips that you can use to guide when you should take a student.

This month, we’re taking a 180 and talking about when you should take a break.

I always say I love precepting and taking students. But it’s really hard. And midwifery is already hard work. But, the only way we make more midwives is to keep teaching the trade, skills and core tenants from one generation to the next.

I also want to mention that just because you take a break, doesn’t mean you’ll never take a student again. We are all in this for the long run, so breaks are merely anticipated and part of the journey.

Let’s dive into these 10 signs that it may be time to take a break from precepting.

You’re burned out.

If you’re thinking that going to work is the worst part of your day, it’s not time to have a student. Students catch nonverbals a lot more than verbals in learning. If you don’t want to be there, they’ll know.

If you aren’t mentally 90% invested in being at work that day, you’re investment in teaching someone else isn’t even going to be 10%. Read more on things to prevent burn out in this post.

Your home life is a mess and you’re constantly putting out fires.

Your mom has cancer. You’re going through a divorce. Your kid just got diagnosed with autism, or ADHD, or diabetes. Your spouse is deployed. A close friend just died. You’re on the verge of bankruptcy.

It could be all the above. In that case, you don’t need more on your plate at work than you already have.

In these cases, if your practice is paired with a midwifery program (ex. students are there most of the time and work with whoever is on shift), simply ask you director for some time off from students. Take care of you first before you pour into anyone else.

Your extra responsibilities at work are breaking you.

I’ve seen this look a couple different ways. You are the medical director, the president of a local midwife association and you are in three working groups. The time you spend with your patients is the easiest and most enjoyable part of your day. And it’s often not very much. If that’s you, see your patients and clients without a student and use those hours to remember why you love this vocation.

You didn’t mesh with a student.

It’s not always a peanut butter and jelly situation when it comes to making a preceptor/student sandwich. You may have had a student that didn’t mesh with your personality, your clinical site, or your patient population. Usually, this is when you have a student for a couple of months or more. Sometimes, you need a mental break to reset for the next student. This is okay. If the school is asking you to line up your next student, simply say, I’m taking a break this quarter, but I’ll take a student the next quarter. It’s a simple statement that is a clear and healthy boundary for you, students and the schools that need preceptors.

Your unit or practice is too busy.

Holy moly – too busy is the daily pace of my current practice. Our students that have a lot of labor experience do okay with the pace. But the pace is so fast that it keeps all of the midwifes busy from start to finish of the shift.

It’s hard to teach when the babies are coming left and right. And you have 3 triages to see. And postpartum called, again, for the fifth time, that same morning. It’s a lot of balls in the air.

For these units, I recommend taking really strong students or taking students when there are lulls in the births (usually late winter and early spring). Other options are for students to only take 1-2 patients at a time and observe/help with the remainder of the labor deck. The goal is to create an environment conducive to learning while maintaining patient safety,

Your practice is too slow.

This is the opposite problem. The practice doesn’t do enough births to give students adequate experience. This deserves evaluation for each student and each site. A very experienced birth worker might be appropriate for the site, but they might only see one obstetrical emergency during their clinical time. Offer the student what your site can accomplish – maybe it’s only a part of their training, but some training is usually better than no training.

You’ve had back to back students for a long time.

If you’re sitting there drinking your coffee and you can’t remember the last time you didn’t have a student and any other tips in the post apply, it might be time to take a break.

This depends on many factors. How busy is your practice? How well oiled is your home life? Are you getting rest, sleep and proper nutrition? Do you love teaching? If everything is fine tuned and well oiled professionally and personally, back to back students may be okay.

Try to budget 2-3 weeks between students if you can just to have that reset or catch a few babes instead of watching.

You’re a few years out of training and just need more time.

This is okay. This is okay. This is okay. Don’t rush into taking a student because students are asking for sites and placement. It’s their job to ask, but it’s not your job to take every student. Precept when you feel confident. If you take a student and it’s too much, complete time with that student and take more time.

Wondering how you know if it’s time? Take a student that someone else is doing the primary precepting for a couple clinic days or shifts and see how it goes. It’s a good litmus test to see where you are or how much farther you need to go.

You’re midwifery practice is for the long run – keep that perspective, always.

Something happened to a mama or baby and you need time to heal.

Midwives don’t talk about the trauma we carry around in our hearts. That’s because it’s heart wrenching. And sometimes, you see really sad, traumatic things happen to babies and mothers. Sometimes we see the outcome happening but most of the time we don’t.

A mama you saw in clinic yesterday shows up in triage and her baby doesn’t have a heartbeat today.

A mama arrives in triage at 23 weeks and her baby is birthing as soon as you walk in the room.

A dear friend comes into clinic having a miscarriage.

Our hearts can only take so much and sometimes the healing is simply overwhelming.

After my first significant shoulder dystocia (which was 3 minutes long), it took me a week or so to not have instant heart racing when I thought about it. I called a few midwife colleagues and talked through my interventions. It took a few times debriefing it before I really processed it all.

And one of the best things a colleague told me was: “You got the baby out. That’s our job. You got the baby out.”

If you’re grieving, take your time to grieve and heal and take as much time as you need.

Your lab in-basket and unfinished notes are getting ridiculous.

Patient care comes first. Students come second. You shouldn’t be sitting at home finishing 20 notes because your clinic ran behind due to your teaching. You might have that happen once or twice, but it shouldn’t be the standard.

One of my favorite preceptors said this to me on my first day of clinic: “Clinic always runs on time. If you can’t run it on time, you sit on the sidelines.”

Yes, it put the fear of the clock in my little student heart but I’ve never forgotten it.

That’s the ten! What do you think? Are the tips relevant to you? What other tips do you use to see if it’s time to take a break?


1 year ago on the blog…How to Heal Dry, Cracked Hands!

2 years ago on the blog…My Third Birth Story

3 years ago on the blog…Student Spotlight: How To Prepare For Midwifery School

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