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Supporting Learners

Q: I am a senior nurse in my practice setting. I’ve been asked to be a preceptor to new nurses; am I required to take on this role? What are my accountabilities?

All nurses are professionally obliged to support learners in developing and refining competencies needed for safe, ethical and effective practice, and to support the learning, development and socialization of colleagues. Learners are not limited to nursing students. A learner is a person studying nursing at the diploma, baccalaureate, graduate or doctorate level, a newly registered nurse, an experienced nurse entering a new practice setting or health discipline, or a nurse new to Ontario practice.

Regardless of role or title, nurses are accountable to provide direction, collaborate, and share knowledge and expertise with nurses working in new environments and nursing learners.

All nurses have a commitment to their profession. This means nurses must uphold the profession’s standards and participate in and promote the profession’s growth. Nurses are expected to mentor other nurses and students and always conduct themselves in a way that promotes respect for the profession.

Never assume a nurse’s or student’s skill and experience. All nurses are accountable for supporting learners who are transitioning into the profession, a new role or new practice area.

All nurses involved in supporting or supervising learners are accountable for placing the patient’s safety and well-being above all other objectives. Nurses acting in formal support roles, such as preceptors, demonstrate a commitment to their profession by facilitating a learning environment that encourages professional growth, career development and high-quality patient care.

As with any procedure or activity performed, nurses remain accountable for ensuring they have the knowledge, skill, and judgment to orient, supervise or support new learners safely and competently.

When supporting nurses as they are learning, here are some guiding questions to consider:

  • How does my practice align with the statements outlined above?
  • Have I made myself available to the learner for assistance or consultation with assigned activities?
  • Do I understand the learner’s background and capabilities?
    • What is the learner’s level of preparation?
    • What are the learner’s objectives related to this experience?
    • Have I reviewed and discussed the learning plan?
    • What is the learner’s knowledge, skill and judgment related to the practice setting?
    • What are their scope of responsibilities, practice limitations and legislated authority?
  • Have I advocated for an appropriate learning environment?
    • Have I clarified the learner’s and supervising nurse’s responsibilities?
    • Is the learner’s assignment appropriate for the educational experience’s goals and objectives?
    • Are necessary systems and resources in place to support the learner in a new environment?
  • Have I ensured the learner’s supervision is appropriate?
    • Is the approach modified based on the learner’s growth and development?
  • Have I provided the learner appropriate and timely feedback?


Nurses are best able to learn, grow and develop in an environment supporting quality professional nursing practice. All nurses are accountable for advocating for, and contributing to, quality practice settings supporting nurses in providing safe, effective and ethical care.

Q: When working with student nurses, am I accountable for their actions? If they make an error are they working under my certificate of registration?

Nurses are professionally obliged to support learners in developing and refining competencies needed for safe, ethical and effective practice. Nurses also take action in situations that compromise patient safety and well-being and take responsibility for errors when they occur.

When supervising students, a nurse is accountable for sharing appropriate nursing knowledge and for ensuring safe, effective and ethical patient care, in accordance with all standards. When a learner makes an error, examining the error’s context is important.  Nurses are not accountable for decisions or actions of other care providers when those actions were unknown and unforeseen. As such, a nurse is not accountable for the student’s actions if their accountabilities to ensure safe patient care were met and if the nurse had no way of knowing the error was going to occur.

CNO does not regulate students and learners do not work under other members’ certificates of registration. Nursing students are accountable for their own actions to the patient, their educational institutions and placement organization.

Related links

CNO practice standards

Page last reviewed December 17, 2018