As a student nurse, clinicals are among of the most important aspects of your nursing education. There is much to learn from books, classrooms, lecture halls, labs, and study groups, to be sure. But clinicals are where all the theory and facts you have absorbed are put to the test, as you experience the realities of real-world medicine among real patients seeking genuine medical care. Clinicals are an invaluable opportunity for crucial learning experiences that cannot be fully replicated in the lab or classroom.
Whether you are enrolled in an online nursing program, or working to obtain your RN to BSN online, or studying nursing at a bricks-and-mortar institution, there is no substitute for the trial by fire that is clinical rotations. Of course, if you are already working a nursing job, and you are seeking to further your nursing education—and thus your salary potential and job prospects—you may already have encountered some valuable real-world clinical experiences.
All the World’s a Stage
Nevertheless, it helps to be prepared to make the most of your clinical learning opportunities. Some student nurses express trepidation about commencing their first clinical rotation. A little nervousness is understandable. For a nursing student, undertaking clinicals is a bit like a student actor being thrust onto the performance stage, lights blazing, and audience assembled. It can be a little daunting. But, of course, the show must go on.
Will you remember your lines? Will you remember where to enter, where to stand, when to cross, which fellow actors to address, and when to make your well-timed exit? But the stage is where trained actors ply their craft; and clinical rotations are where the sick patients needing your nursing care are assembled. Whether it is in a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office—these real-world settings where real medicine happens are your stage. Being there is precisely what you came to nursing school for.
Clinicals have always played an important role in the education of healthcare professionals. But the importance of time spent in clinicals has arguably increased dramatically in recent years, due to ever-increasing advances in technology and the overall complexity of modern patient care. To put it bluntly, nurses today must learn far more than their peers from earlier generations—in the same amount of time. Clearly, then, it helps to be as well prepared for the clinical experience as possible. Advanced preparation can help you maximize this intensive learning opportunity so you can become the best nurse you can be.
Eyes on the Prize
And make no mistake. Nursing remains a top profession in terms of job growth, opportunities for advancement, respect among the public, and job satisfaction. While other professions and industries may be subject to the whims of the economy or a fickle marketplace, nursing remains steadfastly “recession resistant.” In short, we have always needed nurses, and we always will. If anything, with the ongoing aging of the baby boom generation, and the trend towards increasingly common chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, there is a constant, growing demand for qualified nurses.
So, what can you do to prepare yourself for first time events in clinicals? Here are a few simple suggestions to help you prepare, and cope:
- Arrive early—or at least on time. And plan to stay for your entire shift. Leaving early is just as bad as arriving late.
- Arrive prepared. The Boy Scout motto will serve you well here: Be Prepared. Read as much as you can about your assigned rotation in advance. Review common medications typically used on the service.
- Embrace scut work. Menial or unpleasant tasks are all part and parcel of the nursing profession. Your willingness to tackle any such tasks as opportunity arises will help set you apart from your fellow students and may endear you to experienced staff. They may become more inclined to take the time to explain things to you if you have earned a reputation as a hard worker who does not shirk any duties.
- The same willingness and can-do attitude described above can also help you maximize any opportunities for on-the-job learning that may occur. You may be invited to attend any number of uncommon events that may occur on the service from time to time.
- Realize that nothing can adequately prepare you for everything that may happen during clinicals. That is the nature of nursing. Expect the unexpected and be ready to roll with the punches. In any event, keep in mind that any experience, no matter the outcome, is an opportunity for learning.