7 Expert Tips for Getting the Most Out of Nursing School Clinicals

Expert tips for nursing school clinicals

Rest assured, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Nursing school is chock full of studying for strenuous exams, simulation lab work, and on-the-job pressure of completing your nursing school clinicals.   

It’s a great feeling to step back and see all that you’ve accomplished in the classroom, but whether this is your first or your last clinical experience, it may have you a bit anxious. What should you expect? And how can you maximize the experience?

It’s normal to feel nervous about your clinicals, but a little advice can go a long way in calming those nerves. That’s why we compiled some wisdom and advice from nurses who have been in your shoes.

How to maximize your time in nursing school clinicals

Check out these helpful tips from nurses who have gone before you. These will help you put your worries about nursing school clinicals to rest so you can focus and make the most out of this valuable experience.

1. Be a life-long learner

You may come to your clinical with a brain bursting with theories and equations, but you still have a lot to learn. Nursing school has prepared you with heaps of knowledge, but there are some things you just can’t learn in a classroom. Maintaining that learning mindset will help you absorb new information and develop as a nurse.

"I had a 4.0 but very little common sense."

“I had a 4.0 but very little common sense,” says Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN and author.  His clinicals taught him to swallow his pride and ask for help when necessary, which helped him better understand the complete role of a nurse.

2. Put in the extra time

“I would have spent more time studying medications if I had to do it again,” says Michael Irvin, RN and CEO of MLTC Consulting. “In fact, I would show up the night before or even days before the clinicals and get a list of frequently used medications in order to be really prepared.”

You’re used to going the extra mile to earn good grades and excel on exams—so why stop now?  If you know there is something you can do to be prepared for your clinical, don’t hesitate to do it.

3. Stay focused & avoid distractions

There is bound to be a little drama or negativity in any work environment but getting mixed up in it is only a distraction. Remind yourself that you are there to learn and prepare for your future and avoid the magnetic pull of other distractions – even those directed towards you.

Angelis says nurses at your clinical site may not have a vested interest in helping you succeed. In fact, he says a few might even relish the prospect of your failure. But he also advises you not to be suspicious of everyone. “Be prepared to work hard and try to fly under the radar as much as possible. Drama is never good,” he adds.

4. Care about patients, not just patient care

“Get to know your patient. Make a difference in their life,” says Katie Fokken, RN. “Try to find a way to make their day. A gentle touch on their hand or a caring smile goes a long way.”

It’s easy to get caught up in protocol and patient care when undergoing nursing school clinicals. While these things are extremely important, don’t set aside the importance of truly caring for your patient as a person.

5. Soak up the experience

“Get in on everything you can,” says RN Katie Fokken. “Soak in the knowledge of the nurse you are working with. They likely have years of experience and can teach you many tricks to make your role easier.”

Think of this as visiting a museum or an art gallery. Though you are not just a medical spectator, you only have a short amount of time to soak up as much as you can. Upon completion, how much better will you feel knowing that you were fully focused during your clinical experience?

6. Be willing to do the dirty work

"This is the time to get your hands dirty. Watch, learn & do."

When something needs to be done, be the first person willing to do it. If you are a little uncomfortable, still be willing to try and just ask for supervision. Soon enough you will start to leave an impression on the rest of the staff that you are a “yes” person, willing to put yourself out there and do what it takes to learn the trade.

“Getting the most out of a clinical experience requires hands-on work,” says Irvin. “This is the time to get your hands dirty. Watch, learn and do.” He urges you to volunteer to start IV’s, perform catheter insertions, give oral medications and give injections under the guidance of an instructor. There’s no reason to take a back seat – this is your future!

7. Have some fun

As you read this, you're probably somewhere in the middle of mountains of coursework and the next rigorous exam. Keep it up! Those are the things that equip you with the knowledge and training you need to succeed during your clinicals. That's when you get to put all of that coursework into practice, but don’t forget to enjoy the experience!

Fokken recalls feeling a bit uneasy prior to beginning her clinicals. It’s normal to be anxious about having patients’ lives in your hands, but she urges you not to let negative thoughts get in the way. “Enjoy your clinicals,” she says. “Use the skills you’ve been taught and start to format how you see yourself caring for patients.”

Have a tip to share?

These expert tips should have you feeling excited and confident about your nursing school clinicals. Remember that completing your clinicals is a hurdle that every nurse has to clear at some point before launching their career, so make the most of it!

Looking to gain even more hands-on experience before pursuing your first nursing job? Learn about some nursing student jobs that will stand out on your resume!


Do you have a tip you’d like to share with future nurses? Share it in the comments below or on our Rasmussen College Nursing Facebook page!

Megan Ruesink

Megan is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She hopes to engage and intrigue current and potential students.

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