Seven Expert Tips for Getting the Most Out of Clinicals

NursingApril 14, 2017

Nursing clinicals are your chance to get down in the metaphorical trenches, roll up your metaphorical sleeves, and learn important practical nursing skills that will serve you throughout your career. If you are enrolled in an RN to BSN program, be aware that clinicals are crucial to your education. To get the most out of this valuable opportunity for learning, it helps to show up for your first day fully prepared. Even students enrolled in RN to BSN online programs may benefit from visits to venues where they may obtain hands-on experience. 

Here are seven tips from those who know best—fellow nurses and nurse educators—so you can maximize your clinicals experience.

  1. Wear comfortable—not fashionable—shoes. That is right. Many a student nurse has shown up for their first clinical rotation in shoes better suited for cocktail hour than for the rigors of nursing. Now that you are a nurse, think of your work shoes as work-related equipment. You need the right tools for any job. For nurses, that begins with comfortable, sturdy, practical footwear. 

  2. Be patient with experienced nursing staff. Often they are busy, and they may not have volunteered for any teaching duties. Your questions may be treated as distractions by busy nurses. Be persistent. You have a right to be there, learning. This real-world experience is a key component of your RN to BSN degree. And asking questions is often the best way to learn. That said, keep in mind that patient care must remain the primary focus at all times. Often, if nurses do not seem to have the time to devote to your questions, they can be answered later by your clinical instructor. Jot any unanswered questions down for later.

  3. Which brings us to a third suggestion: Carry a few slips of paper and a pen or two at all times. A pocket PDR or other drug reference is probably a good idea, too. While there’s probably a copy of the up-to-date, unabridged PDR at the nurses’ station, it is much more convenient to have one at hand when you need it.

  4. Get adequate rest and sleep. You’ll be on your feet for hours at a time, depending on the service you are assigned to. Fortify yourself with a nutritious meal before beginning your shift, and be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before. Sleep-deprived brains simply don’t reason, learn, or recall information as well as rested brains. Sleep deprivation also affects everything from your immune system function to your reaction times. 

  5. Remember to wash your hands between procedures and before and after patients care. Repeat as needed, scrupulously. Simple, good hand washing technique with ordinary soap is highly effective at preventing the spread of microbes that may cause illness. As the threat of emerging multidrug-resistant microorganisms continues to grow, especially in hospital settings, good hand hygiene is becoming more important then than ever. Use gloves and masks, as appropriate.

  6. Demonstrate your willingness to pitch in and do jobs that may be less than appealing, or even pleasant. Experienced staff will notice your can-do attitude, and will definitely be more likely to take time to instruct you and answer any questions you may have. 

  7. Ask for help when you need it, but respect others’ time. Have you attempted to look up the answer to a question? Can it wait until you meet next with your clinical instructor? It’s okay to admit you don’t know something, or need help with something, but don’t expect others to do the proverbial heavy lifting for you every time. Corollary: Use this time to build you skills and your confidence in your own ability to solve problems and learn new things.