Preparing for successful nursing clinical placements

Nursing is one of the most practical and challenging professions that anyone can get into today. As a result, it requires a great deal of flexibility and experience, even at the entry-level. Every aspect of the role involves a level of unpredictability that nurses must be ready for. One way to prepare for the rigors of nursing is by taking part in clinical placements. Although clinical placements are intended to make it easier for nurses to carry out their day-to-day duties, they can also pose one of the most difficult challenges in the learning process.

Clinical placement involves routine practical experiences within the medical profession that provide a well-rounded learning experience for prospective nurses. From senior colleagues and managers to unfamiliar environments and patients, there are many things that student nurses need to deal with during these placements.

Prospective nurses find out at the end of the day that the experience gained during the clinical period is vital to placing them on the right path for practice in the industry. In this article, we discuss the clinical placement process, including what to expect, how to prepare, and how to navigate the placement from start to end.

 What is a successful nursing clinical placement?

A clinical placement is described as an organized arrangement for students to gain experience in a healthcare setting that provides services to patients, whether privately or publicly. These placements can fall within primary, secondary, community, social and any other healthcare settings. Clinical placements are applicable to the entire medical profession and aren’t restricted to nursing alone. In the case of nursing students, they are sent to facilities to practice the theory they have learned during classes. Clinical placements provide hands-on experience in various real-life settings.

Clinical placement is not dependent on the school you attend. It’s an integral part of nursing education that every prospective nurse must go through. Nurses have a wide variety of healthcare settings that they can work in, from community health centers and outpatient clinics to mental health facilities and general hospitals, nurses are able to gain real-life experiences in a wide range of environments. This experience will be extremely useful post-graduation. Clinical placements are also a prerequisite to gaining a full nursing qualification. Until the conditions are fulfilled, you cannot be regarded as a complete nursing professional.

 The benefits of clinical placement

You may be wondering what the need for clinical placement is even after the school coursework is completed. It’s important to point out that just as internships are vital for some other careers, clinical placements are essential for starting a nursing career.

Gaining clinical experience is an essential aspect of nursing education. Aside from the mandatory status of clinical placements, the hands-on experience gained will be highly beneficial to your future practice as a nurse. From the new skills gained to the variety of backgrounds and network you develop, there are many benefits that clinical placement provides to nursing students. Some of these benefits include:

 Practical experience and skill development

This is typically regarded as the most crucial benefit of clinical placement. As much as school coursework equips you with the knowledge of the profession, it’s still essential to test your capacity and know how to navigate the complexities of the job. Clinical placements provide you with a firsthand opportunity to groom your nursing skills through practical experiences and working with actual patients.

Labs and coursework allow you to learn the techniques, while clinical placements ensure that you practice activities such as administering medication, taking vitals and every other thing that may be required of you as a nurse. You also get the opportunity to work with other senior professionals, which exposes you to new practices as you progress. Aside from honing these practical skills, you also get to interact one-on-one with patients, and along the way, you learn to listen, form bonds and advocate for them as may be required.

By participating in clinicals, you can acquire a genuine sense of the profession, and by combining hands-on lab work, clinical rotations, and practical experience, you can cultivate the necessary skills needed to excel as a nurse.

 Embracing variety through rotations

Healthcare organizations, particularly hospitals, arrange clinical rotations to give student nurses the opportunity to work in different departments and capacities during their training. These rotations encompass various areas, including pediatrics, obstetrics, oncology, urology, and the intensive care unit (ICU), among others.

The purpose of these rotations is to enable student nurses to appreciate the diversity that exists within the nursing profession and gain practical experience. Each unit and department has its own patient demographic and treatment methods that must be tailored to their needs. By participating in these rotations, student nurses can explore the various levels of practice and the practical demands of each, which can assist them in deciding on a specialization.

Having a range of skills and practical experience makes selecting a direction much simpler. Nursing also offers versatility and the ability to easily transition to another specialty. For those still considering transitioning into nursing, Elmhurst University offers an online accelerated BSN program that allows those with a Bachelor of Science in another field to quickly gain a degree in nursing. This full-time program is primarily completed online, but also includes two on-campus residencies designed to help you gain confidence in your skills through participation in simulated scenarios.

 Networking and professional relationships

Aside from gaining clinical experience and honing your skills, clinical placement also helps you in other vital aspects. As a nurse, the aim is to pick up new skills that align with your chosen path and goals. However, it is also important that your network and meet with new professionals that are also walking the path you have chosen. While experience is necessary, networking is extremely useful. Clinical placements give nurses the opportunity to develop purposeful relationships while they work, which will be beneficial in the future.

Not only will you be able to reach out to your network when the need arises, but you’ll also be able to learn from them and see things from their perspective. Investing time and effort in the right people ensures that you can reach out to them when the need arises and that they can do the same. Your network of professionals can come through for you in the form of recommendations, funding, job placements, and much more.

 Building confidence through clinical placements

In addition to possessing clinical knowledge, the confidence level of nurses can set them apart from their peers. Clinical placements are an excellent opportunity for student nurses to develop this confidence, especially as technological advancement in nursing continues to progress. Through exposure to various clinical procedures, novice nurses gradually become more comfortable and gain proficiency. Over time, they develop the confidence needed to take on new challenges and handle unfamiliar situations with ease.

Clinical placements are also beneficial because they help to clear up common misconceptions about nursing practice. For instance, it’s not uncommon for nursing students to assume that only big-name hospitals provide the best clinical experiences. In fact, clinical placements expose student nurses to the beauty of diversity in the profession and make them appreciate the different variables that come into play in patient care.

 How to prepare for a clinical placement

To make the most out of your clinical placement and ensure a successful experience, proper preparation is crucial. Here are some tips on how to prepare for clinical placement:

 Visit the facility before your placement begins

This is the first step to ensuring that you’re thoroughly prepared for your placement. After you learn the location of your placement, make plans to visit the facility by scheduling a visit. Place a call or send an email to introduce yourself, inform them about your placement, and express your interest in paying a visit prior to your placement starting. This way, you can ensure that you’re familiar with the environment, the people, the technologies and facilities, the systems in place and particularly the route that leads there.

An orientation tour also means that you’ll get to know some of the faces and names of your colleagues, which will help to ease the tension on the first day of your placement.

 Make a great first impression on your first day

A lot that happens on the first day or week of your placement may determine how well your clinical placement goes. Ensure that you come in early and avoid unforeseen circumstances that may make you late. When you come in early, you’re able to start work in a calmer state and interact with less tension. Rather than being too quick to jump on activities, ensure that you listen attentively and open your mind to understanding the instructions you may receive first.

Also, ensure that you dress appropriately. Ensure that what you wear aligns with the dress code of the profession and the facility in particular. As much as possible, ensure that you do the right things and make the right first impressions.

 Set goals for your clinical experience

Independently, you should set goals for what you aim to achieve throughout your clinical placements. This makes it easier for you to navigate the difficulties that the experience may pose for you. It’s also important for you to note that you will get to sit down with your supervisor to discuss your overall expectations and goals and how they can help you achieve them through your clinical placement. With the right goals highlighted, your supervisor can hold you accountable at different points in time.

 Stay open-minded and willing to learn

Open-mindedness is one key factor that will help you thrive in the facility you have been placed in for your clinical experience. A lot of times, the realities of the environment may be different from what you imagined, but ensuring that you view all things as opportunities to learn is an asset.

When you work in facilities such as hospitals or similar environments, you get the chance to collaborate with a variety of professionals, including doctors, lab scientists, radiographers and other nurses. Ensure that you come into your placement with a mind that’s open to all kinds of knowledge, both in and outside of your field.

 Take care of your mental and physical health

Nursing school is demanding, and clinical placement is as well. While this is the practical aspect where you get to see how to apply the things that you have learned, it doesn’t diminish the demands or stress that it will place on you. As a student nurse, it’s understandable that you want to do your best, but with the realities of the profession, it may mean pushing yourself to the limit.

Always keep in mind that you must care for yourself as much as you care for others. Don’t neglect your health, particularly your mental health. Practice deep breathing, exercise, meditate, eat well, and make efforts to avoid stress, burnout, anxiety or a total breakdown.

 Be patient with yourself and ask for help when needed         

Clinical placement may not be a walk in the park, but you’ll thrive in this experience if you keep an open mind and avoid being too hard on yourself. Be reminded that all things take time, and just because you don’t understand it by the end of your first week doesn’t mean you’ll never do it.

Whenever you have questions, ensure that you ask the right people. When you don’t know how to carry out some activities, there’s no harm in admitting it to others. When you do a great job, don’t forget to acknowledge and admit it. With time, you’ll learn to ease into the practice.

 What to do after a clinical placement

The end of clinical placement is an exciting one for a lot of nursing students. It’s exhilarating to see how far you’ve grown from an inexperienced nurse to one with ample experience that is ready to take on whatever may be brought your way in practice. However, rather than leaving your facility immediately, there are several important steps you can take as you end of your clinical placement. These include:

 Ask for feedback

Ensure that you receive an assessment after your clinical placement from your superiors and supervisors. In addition to the formal one that you will receive, it is also important to reach out to other professionals at the facility whom you may have connected with at different points and try to get feedback from them, even if it’s only orally. This will help you reflect on your work and drive you to become a better professional as you proceed.

 Continue with your nursing studies

After your clinical placement is the ideal time to decide what nursing area is for you. The profession has a lot of opportunities in store for you. To specialize in a particular field, you may choose to advance your career by pursuing additional studies. Rest assured that there are numerous academic opportunities, both onsite and online that you can take advantage of.

 Support other student nurses

Lastly, you may decide to support other student nurses. After completing your placement, you are better equipped in comparison to student nurses who haven’t experienced a placement yet. You may decide to provide support and tips for those you know in a bid to make it a smoother process for them. Of course, learning is a continuing process, and taking time out to explain the little that you know to others also provides you with greater learning opportunities.

 Wrapping up

For nursing students, the clinical placement and experience is a crucial aspect of their professional development, regardless of their area of specialization. Although it may be a challenging process, it is important to approach clinical placements with an open mind and a willingness to learn at every opportunity. It’s important to remember that as a student, you are not at the same level as the assigned professional, so it’s unrealistic to expect that everything you do will be perfect. Despite the difficulties that may arise, it’s essential to stay focused on the goals and expectations you set for yourself at the beginning.