How to Prepare Yourself for Nursing Clinicals

NursingApril 13, 2017

If you are pursuing a nursing career, or perhaps already have your associate’s degree in nursing, and you are interested in furthering your education and employment opportunities, you may wish to take the RN to BSN track. Whether you enroll in an online program or attend a physical campus, you will probably be required to participate in clinical rotations.

Clinicals can be daunting. For many student nurses, clinicals represent the first real chance to encounter a wide range of patients and patient care scenarios. The point of clinicals is to provide you hands-on experience, working alongside experienced professionals, in a variety of clinical settings. Among other services, you may rotate through ICU, Med/Surg, Pediatrics, OB/GYN, etc.

Learning in the Trenches

Each experience can provide opportunities for you to implement the skills you’ve been studying and practicing in classrooms and nursing labs. Clinicals are an important opportunity to expand your knowledge; to get a sense of what is involved in working with actual patients in a busy clinical setting, and perhaps to interact with other professionals, such as technologists, doctors, and others. Even some of the patients you meet may serve as sources of learning and information, especially when a patient has become an expert in his or her own chronic condition.

You can never be sure what you may encounter from day to day, or even from moment to moment, when you are out there helping provide care and support for real patients and the healthcare team. While it is not exactly trial by fire, you will be down in the metaphorical trenches, on the front lines of medicine. This is what you have been preparing for. Embrace it.

Anxiety is Natural

But let us be honest. Many student nurses anticipate clinicals with anxiety. Some of that trepidation arises from simple anxiety about the unknown. When we do not know what to expect, we tend to imagine the worst. Let us allay your fears. Clinicals are not terrifying. Rather, they are an exciting opportunity to see how things work outside the controlled, predictable atmosphere of the classroom. They are your opportunity to stretch your medical muscles, put your knowledge to the test, and learn new approaches from new, more experienced people.

They are also a good way to get a handle on which specialties may appeal to you most. This could help you further down the line, as you enter the workforce and make decisions about what job is the best fit for you. So how does one prepare for nursing clinical rotations?

Top Tips

Here are some tips:

  1. Realize that you do not get to choose your rotations. Rather, embrace your assignment, whatever it may be, and take the positive attitude that you will attempt to make the most of this learning opportunity, even if you think you are not interested in the particular service you have been assigned to.
  2. Try to be prepared. This means several things. No one expects you to arrive with all the answers. On the contrary, they know full well that you are there to learn through careful observation and some carefully supervised participation. Preparation also means: read up about the service. Try to get at least a minimal grounding in the specifics of that service. Get plenty of sleep the night before. Eat a meal before you begin; you will need energy. Wear sturdy shoes, and otherwise dress appropriately. Be respectful and attentive at all times. And always arrive early, or at least promptly.   
  3. If you know any more experienced nurses, ask them for any insights into the particular service—if not the specific individuals you can expect to encounter there.
Understand that it is acceptable—expected even—that you will ask questions. But you should also understand that not all nurses you encounter will relish the job of teaching. They are primarily focused on patient care and safety, and have many pressing responsibilities. Perhaps hold your question(s) until a time when the nurse appears to have a spare moment to think. And demonstrate your willingness to do any job, no matter how menial. This will endear you to staff and make them more likely to give you the attention you desire.