10 Strategies for Getting the Most Out of Your Nursing School Clinicals

Depending on how you look at it, your clinicals are the most important part of your nursing school experience. They can also be the most stressful, so to help you take full advantage of your clinicals experience, consider the following tips and advice.

1. Pay Attention to the Little Things

You may be worried about making a mistake or not knowing everything you need to know for the clinical. However, don’t forget that the little things matter too. Below is a list of little things that can make a big difference.

  • Don’t be late to the clinical. Ideally, be a little bit early so you don’t have to feel rushed on your drive to the clinical site.
  • Be professional. Treat the clinical as if it’s your new job. This means being patient and considerate of the nursing staff, as well as your classmates and preceptor. It also helps to know the names of the hospital staff you’ll be working with.
  • Follow the dress code. Be sure to follow your school’s policy when it comes to what you should (or shouldn’t) wear during the clinical.
  • Have the right equipment. Make sure you bring everything your school told you to bring for the clinical. And even if it wasn’t listed, it doesn’t hurt to have a pen and paper with you at all times to take notes.

2. Ask (Good) Questions

Getting a good grade during your clinical studies is important, but it’s also important to learn as much as you can. One of the best ways to learn is to ask good questions. But you also need to avoid asking bad ones, as they can hinder your clinical experience.

You might be wondering what differentiates a good question from a bad one. It’s hard to give a definitive answer, as there are many variables that can turn a good question into a bad one. That being said, one of the worst questions to ask one where the answer is something you should already know.

It might be information someone just told you five minutes ago or the answer is located in a pack of documents you should have already read. Asking this type of question implies to others you’re either too lazy to find the answer yourself or you weren’t paying attention when you should have been.

In contrast, good questions help you learn without giving the wrong impression or annoying others. Here are some examples of good questions to ask during a clinical:

  • Asking a question for clarification. Your preceptor and the nursing staff you work with want you to understand what you’re doing. The only thing worse than a nursing student doing something wrong is a nursing student doing something wrong because they didn’t ask for clarification when they should have.
  • Your classmates have the same question as you. Your classmates will appreciate it.
  • It’s a question about something you’ve already tried looking up yourself. These questions are often appreciated because they can benefit the entire class. They also tell others that you respect their time because you already tried figuring things out yourself before asking them.

3. Do As Much As You Can During the Clinical

The benefits from a clinical are directly proportional to the effort you put into it. This means volunteering when the opportunity arises and being willing to complete tasks that you feel you’ve already mastered. By volunteering, you get to not only demonstrate your willingness to work hard and be a team player, but you will have opportunities to complete procedures that your classmates may miss out on.

As for repeating tasks you feel you’re already good at, it’s that fifth time doing something that seems routine where something goes wrong. You’ll have the chance to use your critical thinking skills to handle or assist in the situation. This leads to learning experiences you’ll never forget.

4. Study and Research Before the Clinical as Much as Possible

You want to be as prepared as possible before the clinical. But don’t get discouraged if you weren’t asked about something you spent extra time memorizing the night before. There will eventually come a time where your preceptor asks you a question or assigns a task and you’ll be ready for it. In addition to any information your instructor provides you before the clinical, it’s often a good idea to review:

  • Medications, including common dosages and how they’re prepared.
  • Diagnostic and laboratory tests that you’re likely to encounter during a clinical.

5. Network

Treat every clinical like it’s a job interview. This doesn’t mean you should expect a job at your clinical site after you graduate, but it could happen. Even if it doesn’t, you never know when the connections you make during your clinical can help you in the future.

6. Maintain Healthy Habits

Your body is your best tool for success, whether in life or during a clinical. Treat it well and don’t forget a little bit of self-care. Also, be sure you get plenty of sleep the night before your clinical. Having a well-rested brain will help you remember more and think faster during the clinical. And before your shift, make sure you eat a decent meal. You might be on your feet for the next eight hours so your body and mind will need the energy.

7. Focus on the Big Picture

Nurses work as part of a healthcare team. Use the clinical experience to help understand what your role is in this team and how your job duties contribute to the overall goal of improving your patient’s health. There may be tasks or decisions that you don’t have to do or make, but it helps to understand why they happen. This understanding can provide you the perspective to more effectively communicate with the rest of your healthcare team.

8. Learn How to Document Effectively and Efficiently

From writing notes to yourself to filling out a patient’s chart to inputting medical information into a computer, use the clinical to learn and develop good documentation skills. It’s tedious and boring work, yet essential. It ensures the patient gets the best care possible and it also helps protect you if something goes wrong.

9. Be Ready for Distractions

Hospitals and clinics have drama like any other workplace, but try to avoid getting involved. Doing so could lead to upsetting the wrong people and prevent you from learning as much as you can.

Distractions can also come from within. Maybe you’re having trouble in school or just had a big fight with a significant other. These are important and deserve your attention and concern, just not during your clinical.

10. Know Yourself

The better you can identify your strengths and weaknesses, the better you can tailor your learning and approach to the clinical. Perhaps you’ve been struggling with a particular concept. In that case, try to spend extra time and attention during the clinical to turn that potential liability into an asset. Or maybe you worry that your communication and interpersonal skills aren’t where you wish they could be. It may help to find a trusted classmate or member of the nursing staff that you can check in with to get immediate feedback on an interaction you just had.