Because your experiences in clinical will be where you learn the bulk of your nursing skills, you’ll want to know how to get the most out of your clinical rotations. If you’ve already had the chance to participate in clinical, you might know by now that not all clinical teachers and nurse preceptors are created equal.
But that’s okay! Because you can still find ways to make the most of your learning opportunities. I’m currently in my third semester of clinical and have had five rotations so far (starting my sixth rotation this Friday!) so I’ll share with you some of the ways I’ve learned to get the most out of my clinical rotations!
Important: YOU (not anyone else) play the biggest role in your learning experience!
If you take away only one thing from this blog post, it should be this. The way you get the most out of your clinical rotations is by realizing that you, more than anyone else, are responsible for the lengths you go to for learning. If there’s something you need help with, speak up. If there’s something you want to see or experience, raise your voice. Something you don’t understand, just ask. And don’t be afraid to ask more than once, or to go to more than one person. At the end of the day, it’s whatever you make it.
Stick with your patient wherever they go.
Take every opportunity to follow along with your patient whenever possible. Find out if they have any services scheduled, such as physical therapy, dialysis, lab draws, or imaging to get done, such as a CT or MRI. I’ve even followed patients who got transferred to a different unit. Who knows, you might even be able to shadow inside the Operating Room if your patient has an upcoming surgery. The point is, you can learn so much and see some exciting things if you’re willing to tag along with your patient!
If your patient doesn’t have much going on, stick with the nurse instead!
Sometimes your patient doesn’t have much going on with them and you may have some downtime. Don’t be afraid to follow your nurse and help out with their other patients. It’s an excellent way to expand your learning opportunities and the chance that you’ll be able to practice nursing skills. Just go with the flow and be flexible to help out wherever you’re needed. And it’s a great way to see how the nurse manages their time when caring for multiple patients.
Take every opportunity to practice your skills.
There will be many times (most of the time, in fact) that your instructor will expect you to do something, but will not hover over your shoulder to make sure it’s been done. For example, patient assessments are a big one! In this case, you have two options. You can either, 1- Pretend you did the assessment because you can get away with not doing it. Or 2 – Do the assessment and get your practice in.
Believe me, there have been many times I’ve been tempted not to do it… (the patient is sleeping and it’s 6 a.m., the patient has an attitude, or simply because I’m nervous and scared.) But when I remind myself that one day I will be on my own and have to do this for real, I talk myself up and I go in there and do it! Truth be told, most patients won’t even be able to notice if you mess up.
You are learning, so don’t be too hard on yourself, and no matter what, don’t pass up an opportunity to learn! Also, don’t turn something down just because you’ve done it before! If a nurse asks you to get vital signs or to do an AccuCheck, get the extra practice in. Help your nurses out and I promise you, they’ll come get you when a learning opportunity arises!
Ask lots of questions! (To your patient AND your nurse).
Be curious and take advantage of the time you have with your instructor and other medical professionals! Your teachers only have a very limited amount of time to lecture you in class. But your clinical time together can be a valuable resource if you let it! During my most recent clinical, all of the students in my group took time to ask our instructor thoughtful questions and for help clarifying things in class. The result was that we all enhanced each other’s learning and every single rotation we learned a crazy amount of new things!
Also, if your patient is willing to talk to you, try to find out more from them as well. Ask them about their medical condition, what treatments they’ve had for it, and how their disease has impacted their life. Part of being a good nurse is getting the full picture so we can treat more than just their illness. Try finding out if they have any cultural beliefs that will affect how you care for them, or if they have any barriers to caring for themselves once they’re discharged home. You might reveal something about a patient that no one had bothered to ask before.
Some other ways to get the most out of your clinical rotations…
- Be teachable! Ask for feedback and be willing to use it to improve in the future.
- Don’t forget to check the patient’s chart, labs, H&P, etc. This will help you learn what sort of things to look for in patients with different illnesses.
- Lastly, you can check out this Reddit post to read more advice from nursing students on how to get the most out of your clinical rotations.
And my last piece of advice is to always keep an open mind!
If you follow these tips, you’ll no doubt get the most out of your clinical rotations! Want to know what supplies to bring to your clinical? Then read my most popular post, Top 10 Clinical Bag Supplies For Nursing Students. You can also shop my favorite clinical bag here! If you have any questions or words of advice for other nursing students, please leave a comment below.