If you’re interested in training to become a nurse, you probably know that student nurses complete clinical rotations as part of their training. During clinical rotations, you will gain supervised hands-on experience in the medical/surgical, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) and psychiatric departments. You’ll also have the opportunity to interact with patients as a nursing professional for the first time.
Clinical rotations are exciting and challenging. They’re also your opportunity to learn by doing, ask questions, and get a feel for the type of nurse you really want to be. You should come out of your clinical experiences with a new understanding of your strengths as a practitioner, areas where you still have more to learn, and also what specialties might interest you. You’re more likely to succeed if you go in prepared. Here are a few tips for making the most of your nursing clinical rotations.
Do Your Preparation
Your clinical experiences will be planned ahead of time based on what you have been learning in your classes. For each clinical, your instructors will send you information you need to know about patients you may treat or duties you may need to carry out.
Read this information carefully and refer to your nursing textbooks. Look up anything you may need to know, such as medications, symptoms, or treatments for a specific condition. Have your notes in a notebook you can take to your clinical site for reference. If your clinical site allows you to have your phone or a tablet with you (some do not), you can also record your notes in an app.
Dress for Success
Your appearance plays an important role in reassuring patients, so arrive at your clinicals looking like a professional. Keep yourself well-groomed and wear clean, pressed scrubs. At Altierus, we provide our nursing students with school-branded scrubs so they can act as representatives of our college at their clinical sites.
It’s also important to wear sturdy, comfortable shoes, because you are likely to be on your feet all day.
Pack a Bag
In addition to looking the part, you’ll want to prepare for your nursing clinicals with the right gear. Your instructor or preceptor will be in touch with you with any specific items you will need, but typically, you should have:
- A stethoscope
- A notebook and pens for taking notes
- A wristwatch with a second hand—some clinical sites may not permit you to use your phone, and you’ll need to time patient pulses and respiratory rates
- A permanent marker for writing on dressing changes
- A digital-readout thermometer (check with your instructor about which brand or type to purchase)
- Hand sanitizer
- A penlight for examining patients’ ears, throats, and eyes
- Your school identification card and any identification provided by your clinical site
- Any hygiene products, hair ties, or prescription medication you may need during your day
- An energy bar or other nutritious, quick snack
If you’re the kind of person who tends to leave the house in a rush in the morning, make sure you pack your bag the night before.
At Altierus, we provide our student nurses with a bag they can take with them to clinicals.
Be on Time—or a Little Early
Arrange to be at your clinical site 10-15 minutes early for your shift. This not only demonstrates enthusiasm, it gives you time to mentally compose yourself for your day. You can have a coffee, review your notes, ask your clinical instructor questions, or talk to the nurses on duty to find out how things are going.
Speaking of talking to the nurses, make a point of learning the names of staff you encounter at your clinical placement. This can include nurses, physicians, orderlies, aides, and maintenance staff. Everyone at the hospital is a professional and everyone deserves your respect. If you have trouble with names, write them down as soon as you can.
Also—this should go without saying—show your patients courtesy, too. Patients of your age or older should be referred to as “Mr.”, “Miss” or “Mrs.” unless they give you permission to use their first name.
Volunteer and Ask Questions
Be willing to try almost anything during your clinical rotations. This can include “small” jobs, like running paperwork to another department or helping feed a patient, or tasks that are just outside your comfort zone, like inserting an IV drip for the first time. Try to find an opportunity to ask, “May I help you do that?” or “Can I observe this procedure?” at least once per shift. The more you’re doing, the more you’re learning.
Trust your intuition, however. If you feel you are being asked to take responsibility for something outside your scope of practice which could endanger a patient, contact your clinical instructor or your college instructor for confirmation.
Also, be ready to ask questions of the staff members you work with, even ones you think you know the answer to. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that invite candid feedback, such as “Do you think there was a better way I could have done that?”
Finally, at the end of every clinical rotation shift, try to say thank you to everyone you’ve worked with. That includes your instructor, classmates, other staff members and your patients. They’ve all played an important part in your education as a nursing professional!