Is a Preceptor a Mentor?

People in the health care community are very familiar with the term “preceptor”, so when I am working in this setting, I am often asked the question in the title. The answer for me is both “yes” and “no”

  • “Yes” in that a mentor is such a broadly defined term that can include the concept of “preceptor”.
  • “No” because, by my sense of what a mentor should be, which is a more richly complex relationship, some “preceptors” could nt be also called a mentor.

I like the concepts regarding this question given by Col. Dr. Mark Melanson, an IMA Board member, in his article “The Mentoring Relationship Spectrum“. Mark describes the range of roles, from simple to complex, in which the term mentor is often applied. By the way, he has a good definition of “preceptor” as well.

My Approach to Using “Preceptor”

Since, when I am invited into an existing health care institution, they are very familiar with the term “preceptor”, I prefer to define mentor as that and several other roles as well.

Of course, I have to be very careful as I do this because many persons who fill the role of preceptor do much more than any definition of the role may require. They can really invest themselves into their “protege” and care a great deal about their success. For that reason, some “preceptors” may take offense as we make these distinctions, especially if we portray these categories as having “hard edges”, and are not careful about the language we use as we discuss it. Basically, I affirm that many really care so much that they go beyond my definitions.