What can nursing students expect in nursing school clinicals? How do they work?
I started clinicals in my junior year of college. On one hand, I was so excited about starting clinicals, because I love learning in a hands-on way, and I couldn’t wait to learn from other nurses. Classroom lectures can get a bit tedious, and seeing practical application of nursing theory was something I couldn’t wait to experience.
On the other hand, I was also very nervous about starting clinicals. I knew I’d be working in large hospitals, and I thought to myself, “What if I get lost in these huge buildings? What if I have trouble finding my way around?”
In addition, I was worried that some of the nurses might not like me, or that I’d make some huge medical blunder. So I was filled with both excitement and anxiety.
Nursing School Clinicals: What to Expect
At my nursing school, clinical rotations were structured in a way so that they would correspond with lecture classes each semester. For example, if you were taking peds or OB lecture classes, your clinicals would be peds or OB that semester. And the time we would spend at clinicals would vary each week.
In addition, my nursing school did an excellent job of exposing us to a variety of nursing settings. We got to work in clinic settings, the OR, ER, wound care, home health, the ICU, Med-Surg, and so on. That was great because it allowed nursing students to see which areas of nursing they enjoyed most.
How Were Clinicals Structured?
The way each clinical rotation was structured depended on the clinical site. For example, when I was working on my med-surg clinicals, I’d have to go to the clinical setting the night before my shift, go over the patient’s chart, and then create a nursing care plan.
The next day, I’d arrive to the clinical setting, and I’d implement the care plan I had previously created. I would work under the supervision of a clinical instructor, and he or she would supervise all of the nursing students to ensure that we did everything correctly.
During that clinical rotation, we’d be responsible for all of the duties of a CNA: linen changes, bathing patients, checking vitals, etc. In addition, we’d handle orders, full body assessments, and charting.
In contrast, for my OB clinicals, there would be a group of students under a clinical instructor. They’d divide us up into groups of two or three. We’d then be assigned to the different areas such as the newborn nursery, on the floor assisting with births (one of my favorite parts), and another group would be in the OR watching OB surgery procedures. There was also a postpartum area on that floor.
I really enjoyed that structure because it allowed us to see the different areas of OB throughout the semester.
Finally, during my last semester, my nursing school allowed us to pick our top three areas of interest that we’d like to work for our final clinical practicum. I chose to work in a cardiac progressive care floor. That was what I enjoyed most during my clinical experience.
For that final senior practicum, I was assigned to a specific progressive care floor, and I would work the schedule of the registered nurse that was precepting me. I would work the entire 12-hour shift, which allowed me to see nursing from beginning to end.
So, that’s how my clinicals were structured.
Quick Tips on Getting the Most from Clinicals
I have a video on how to actively participate in clinicals, but I’ll share a few quick tips that can help you get the most from it.
- Convey interest to others. You want your preceptor, other nurses, and fellow students to know that you are serious and interested in learning. Give them your full attention, ask questions when appropriate, and don’t play with your cell phone. Be proactive by asking if you can start an IV or check a blood sugar.
- Don’t be discouraged if you get a sour nurse. There are many stories of nurses eating their young, and that can be true in some cases, but most nurses are willing to help students. If you do get paired with a nurse who hates teaching or has a bad attitude, try to be respectful. Remember that not all nurses are like that, and maybe that particular nurse has something going on in his or her life.