University of Virginia School of Nursing
Mary Messer, RN, winner of the School of Nursing's 2016 preceptor award.

RN Mary Messer, one of two exceptional recipients of the School's 2016 preceptor award, has worked in UVA's ER since 2014. Before that, she was a staff nurse on the TCV post-operative unit at UVA. Messer is one of about 250 preceptor mentors who work across the Commonwealth with UVA nursing students each year.

  • How long have you been a preceptor?

Five years, actually. Initially I was a nursing student preceptor for a public health department when I lived in California. There was a dismal student program there and I revamped the whole thing. It is still thriving!

  • Being a preceptor is a lot of extra work on top of a very intense job in the ER. Why do it?

I love how students renew my energy for the profession. They have so much excitement it gets me excited as well! It also keeps me on my "A game" so I can answer questions appropriately and be a good resource. My father is a professor at a military academy, so teaching probably runs in my blood.

Most importantly, while I know that I impact the patients I take care of directly,  it makes me so proud to know of all the patients I will affect indirectly through my students. Well-taught students turn into great nurses that give quality patient care. That makes me feel good.

  • What do students see in when they're with you?

Oh goodness, the list here is endless... We are able to show students care for literally almost any patient that is cared for at this hospital, from chest tubes to ports to a-lines to casting, we literally do It ALL.

  • Is there advice you routinely give your students?

I always try to tell my students that being a nurse in the ER at the bedside is a privilege and an honor, not a right. You are privy to the worst possible moment orday in a person's life. Make sure to treat that position with the respect that their unique situation calls for. We are able to watch and be humbled by the strength of the human spirit in both the patient or their caregivers. Keep that in thought when you take care of your patient.

  • Any favorite student stories to share?

Oh goodness, that would be like choosing a star from the heavens...

I'll share one. I loved the expression on a student's face when I handed her a specimen cup and a spoon and told her to get a stool sample for a possible C diff [Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection] patient. When she asked me what the spoon was for, with a straight face I told her to scoop up the poop with it, and she went green... she couldn't eat her yogurt later because she continued to look at the spoon with disgust.