It’s a well-known fact that nursing school clinicals are a stressful and often confusing experience — but it doesn’t have to be that way.
As one of the most unique and hands-on learning opportunities for nursing students, clinicals are essential for practicing your practical and interpersonal skills. You also get a taste of what day-to-day life as a nurse will really be like.
But, just because nursing school clinicals are an excellent educational tool doesn’t mean they aren’t stressful and overwhelming.
No matter what year of nursing school you are currently taking, clinicals always offer a series of challenges. This could range from complex patients, to getting your head around disease processes, to treatment plans.
With this in mind, we’re addressing some of the most commonly asked questions about nursing school clinicals. We hope to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety about these highly beneficial learning opportunities.
If you are new to nursing school or are feeling stressed about an upcoming clinical placement, this is the article for you! Read on to get the answers to your most pressing nursing school clinical questions — and get ready to crush your next rotation with ease!
What are nursing school clinicals?
In most cases, nursing school is often broken up into three primary learning components:
- in-class learning,
- simulation labs, and
- clinical rotations.
While each of these components offers unique benefits, nursing school clinicals are often viewed as the most beneficial learning opportunity throughout the program. They provide hands-on experience with patient care and practical nursing skills.
Depending on your nursing school program, your clinical rotations may vary in length and location. For some programs, you may have month-long clinical placements, while others may switch between classwork and clinicals weekly.
Designed to cover a wide range of nursing specialties, it is common for nursing students to have clinical placements in acute care, long-term care, mental health facilities, and community settings.
How do nursing school clinicals work?
Like classroom learning courses, clinicals are organized by your nursing program. Depending on the size of your program, anywhere from five to eight nursing students will be assigned to a clinical instructor — your primary support system throughout your clinical rotation.
In most cases, your clinical instructor will be onsite for most or all of your clinical time, allowing them to supervise and monitor your progress and answer any questions you may have throughout the day.
During your nursing school clinical, your instructor assigns patient care plans and other projects as part of your clinical grade. They may also grade you on your practical skills, such as dressing changes, IV starts, and more.
Once your group has been oriented to the unit, your clinical instructor may assign you to shadow a working nurse to help with their current patient load.
During your first few clinical rotations, you won’t be expected to provide complete patient care on your own — but, as your skill level and confidence grow, by the time you finish your final clinical rotation, you should be able to care for multiple patients on your own with minimal supervision.
FAQ — your most pressing nursing school clinical questions answered
Now that we understand what nursing school clinicals are and how they work, you likely have many more questions about what to expect going into this new learning experience. With this in mind, here are some of the most commonly asked questions about nursing clinical and helpful answers to ease your stress!
How are nursing school clinicals graded?
For eager nursing students looking to do their best, this is one of the most commonly asked questions at the beginning of every clinical rotation. The clinical grading system differs from school to school and from placement to placement — but in most cases, it will involve the following criteria:
- Attendance — As the easiest area to maximize your grade, you need to ensure that you are present for all of your clinical placements in order to pass. Many nursing schools require you to have completed a certain number of hours to prove competence in a certain area of nursing. So be sure to show up on time to your clinicals to get the most out of your placement.
- Preparedness — Did you show up to clinical wearing the required clothing, and have you studied your patient care plan in advance? These things will be noted by your instructor and are essential for getting a good grade in clinical.
- Participation — In most clinicals, you must demonstrate practical nursing skills successfully in front of your clinical instructor to get graded. This is a valuable learning opportunity for students looking to hone essential skills like taking vital signs, charting, and more.
- Homework and care planning — Nursing students are expected to create patient care plans for most clinical rotations. These assignments aim to enhance student understanding of the nursing process (assessment, nursing diagnosis, planning, intervention, evaluation) while providing a framework for best care practices. You are graded on your patient care plans throughout your clinical rotation.
Will I be expected to care for patients on my own?
In the beginning, definitely not! Patient safety and your comfort are always top priorities during clinical, so your program should never put you in a position where you feel underprepared or overwhelmed. During the first few weeks of every nursing school clinical, it is normal to shadow a working nurse as you work up to taking on more responsibilities.
By the end of nursing school (during your final preceptorship placement), it is more common for nursing students to have more autonomy and be able to provide more extensive care on their own.
What should I wear to nursing school clinicals?
Before you begin your clinical placement, your school shares its expectations for what you should wear. In most cases, this involves wearing a school scrub uniform and name tag. In addition to these essential pieces, other resources we recommend bringing to your clinical include:
- Comfortable closed-toe shoes that you can stand in for long periods of time
- A stethoscope, a pocket watch, and a pen light
- Multiple black ink pens and a highlighter
- Compression socks or stockings to provide comfort to your legs
- Medication and disease cue cards
- A notepad for writing vitals or other notes for charting
What areas of nursing can I experience as part of my clinical training?
Nursing school clinicals are designed to cover a wide range of specialties to help nursing students figure out which area they want to explore during their careers. Some common examples of clinical placements include:
- Medical-surgical unit
- Critical care and emergency
- Community health
- Long-term care and geriatrics
- Psychiatric care
- Operating rooms and recovery
- Labor and delivery
Do students get paid for nursing school clinicals?
Unfortunately, nursing students do not get paid for clinical time. But it is important to note that just because nursing students don’t get paid doesn’t mean there isn’t career-based value in networking and building connections on your assigned unit.
It is very common for nursing students to get hired as a graduate nurse at the unit where they completed their final preceptorship rotation — so keep this in mind as you are building connections with the nurses you work with during clinical!
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