What to Expect During Clinicals

NursingDecember 07, 2016

Clinical rotations are a necessary and important aspect of your nursing education. If you are pursuing your RN to BSN degree at a bricks-and-mortar institution, you will need to prepare for more clinical rotations. In most instances, students do not get to choose where their clinical rotations will occur. If you are accepted into an RN to BSN online program, you may be required to obtain experiential education at a local facility. As such, it is best to be ready for anything, and that’s a good thing because good nurses are flexible and adaptable.

Keep in mind that the length of a given rotation may vary. Some may last just a few weeks, while others may take up the better part of a semester. You may find yourself in an affiliated hospital, clinic, nursing home, or similar facility. Similarly, the length of your shift may vary, depending on the sponsoring institution and the nature of the rotation. This also serves as real-world preparation. When it comes time to seek employment, you will find that different institutions follow different shift models. Twelve-hour shifts are becoming increasingly common in many workplaces.

So what can you expect—and how should you behave—during clinical rotations? Here are some suggestions.


Like a good Boy Scout, it makes sense for a good nursing student to be prepared. You are there to learn. Doing a bit of investigative legwork first never hurts. If you are assigned to Labor & Delivery/Postpartum, for example, take some time to read up on the services and get acquainted with the charts of any patients assigned to you. Pediatrics, geriatrics, medical-surgical…whatever rotation you are assigned, it may be helpful to read about the ins and outs of the service before you begin.


Filmmaker/comedian Woody Allen once quipped, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The prolific Hollywood director was aiming for the laugh, but his observation contains a hard kernel of truth. Showing up on time and ready to work is inarguably one of the keys to success, no matter what your endeavor. To that we would add showing up dressed for the part is also important. Follow your school’s dress code and be prepared with any equipment you are required to bring along such as a personal stethoscope. Showing up consistently on time, prepared, properly dressed, and willing to tackle any task is the hallmark of a professional.   


You will get plenty of classroom instruction as a RN to BSN student, but keep in mind that medical professionals gain many crucial skills by pitching in and during the actual work. If your nurse instructor asks you to perform a procedure, perform it willingly. Being hesitant is understandable if you’ve never attempted something before, but there’s really no better way to learn. It is all about learning to be the best nurse you can be, after all.   


Fully participating in clinical rotations provides a golden opportunity to interact with medical professionals working in the trenches, so to speak. Remember you are there to learn and these professionals are generously giving of their time for your benefit. Act accordingly and treat other professionals with respect, courtesy, and deference. You are being evaluated at all times, so maintain awareness of your behavior. Offer to help as the need arises. Remember your manners, keep any complaints (unless compelling and legitimate) to yourself, and do not be shy about asking questions. Decline to be drawn into personal dramas. You are there to learn and do what you are asked to do.


If you feel you’ve performed poorly at an assigned procedure or task, do not give up. Try again tomorrow, and redo the task as often as necessary to gain confidence that you are up to speed and fully capable. There’s no shame in failure. Indeed, as Winston Churchill once said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”