During an elaborate literature review about in vivo learning and related concepts—in particular the function of overseeing and facilitating learning through experience in a real-life context—I found several terms, such as mentor and supervisor, including preceptor.
Recently, I was struck by the word precept, meaning "a commandment or direction given as a rule of action or conduct; an injunction as to moral conduct; a procedural directive or rule, as for the performance of some technical operation" and preceptory, meaning "historically the headquarters of any of the various orders of Christian Knights, within a given geographic area, governed by a preceptor, who was answerable to the Grand Master of the respective order." I found this odd and intended to look into the meanings. It slipped out of my mind and slipped back in today.
In contrast to the words precept and preceptory, the meaning of the word preceptor is "an instructor, teacher or tutor; an expert or specialist, such as a physician, who gives practical experience and training to a student, especially of medicine or nursing [Originating from Middle English, from Latin praeceptor, from praecipere, to teach]". Another explanation for preceptor brings the two meanings closer together, namely "A preceptor is a teacher responsible to uphold a certain law or tradition, a precept".
Most interesting, a Princeton University webpage states that the "Preceptorial method, introduced in 1905 under Woodrow Wilson's leadership, is a method of study whereby a small group of students meets in regular conferences with a faculty member. Wilson first described his proposal as a modified form of the Oxford tutorial"—it reminds me of my undergraduate days of group classes to discuss in smaller groups the work dealt with in the main lectures.
In another blog post I shared my literature review findings of August 2008 about perceptorship and on clinical accompaniment. According to Dube (2004) the concept preceptorship originated in the late sixties and early seventies. Dube (2004) asserts that preceptors instil confidence in preceptees and empower them. Barnum (1997, p. 8) states that precepting gives the new entrant a "chance to be the role, to internalise the role … new roles, like new robes, have to be worn a while before they fit comfortably" and concludes that "roles are not taught, but caught". However, Flynn (1997) asserts that a preceptor programme needs to be carefully planned to be effective and Dube (2004) cautions that the effectiveness is reduced if the preceptor: preceptee ratio is increased.
Preceptorship is among others defined as a "[a] period of practical experience and training for a student, especially of medicine or nursing, that is supervised by an expert or specialist in a particular field; [b] a defined period of time in which two people (a nurse with a student nurse or an experienced nurse with a new graduate) work together so that the less experienced person can learn and apply knowledge and skills in the practice setting with the help of the more experienced person; and in graduate education [c] a period of hands-on training under a physician or surgeon skilled in a technique–eg, placement of a stent in a coronary artery, or laparoscopic surgery". Another definition of preceptorship—emphasis added—sounds very similar to a definition of work-integrated learning: "Practical experience in medical and health-related services that occurs as part of an educational program wherein the professionally-trained student works outside the academic environment under the supervision of an established professional in the particular field".