6 Things that Surprised Me About My Nursing School Clinicals

male nursing instructing students

A nursing student’s first clinical experience can be nerve-racking. You’ve spent hours hitting the books, taking tests and doing your best to absorb wave upon wave of new information each week. But what’s going to happen when the bright lights are on and you’re doing the real thing?

It’s easy to work yourself into a frenzy by running through nightmare scenarios where your mistake leads to terrible consequences for a patient.

Just take a deep breath— you will be ok!

The nerves you’re battling preceding your first clinical externship are perfectly natural. Everyone gets a little uneasy when they start something new. Add the relatively high stakes nature of nursing and you’ve got a recipe for stress.

To help you fight the fear of the unexpected, we spoke with Rasmussen College nursing student Camille Brueggen to share her insight and offer some advice for those following in her footsteps. Keep reading to learn about six things that surprised her during her nursing school clinicals.

What I didn’t expect during nursing school clinicals…

1. The experience gap isn’t that big

Going in, Brueggen admits she felt a little bit behind other nursing students who had experience as certified nursing assistants.

“I didn’t have a CNA background so I was extremely nervous compared to other students who did,” Brueggen shares. “But don’t let [lack of experience] stop you—it can be done!”

While her classmates may have had more practical experience, Brueggen says the nurses at her clinical externship sites helped her get up to speed with tips for improving bedside manner or other areas she wasn’t as comfortable or familiar with.

2. You’ll never know it all

Brueggen spent plenty of time pouring over her books and trying to review for the experience. While the extra review time won’t hurt in the long run, she says it’s important to know when to turn to others for help.

“You’ll never know everything as a student nurse—so don’t be scared if you need to ask for help,” Brueggen suggests.

You didn’t get this far into nursing school by being a fool, so it can be understandably difficult to check your ego at the door. Just remember, the experienced nurses you’re working with were once nervous nursing students like you. They’re going to do what they can to make sure you learn from their experience and are prepared to enter the field—so don’t hesitate to ask questions!

3. Sometimes you just have to dive right in

"Nursing is a hands-on profession. The best way to learn is to just jump in."

You’re not always going to feel completely comfortable with what you’ll be asked to help with, but that’s ok! The old adage of “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” rings true here. You might not be able to take the lead on assisting a patient, but at the very least you should do what you can to follow and assist the nurses with whom you’re working.

“Nursing is a hands-on profession. The best way to learn is to just jump in,” Brueggen advises. “I was so worried about making a mistake or hurting someone going in, but the mentorship you get from the other nurses really helps.”

4. You’ll learn to embrace the variety

You’re not going to do the same thing every day. Part of the clinical experience is getting to try your hand at different nursing specializations. In Brueggen’s time she’s been able to work with patients of all ages; from infants to senior citizens and everywhere in between. Beyond learning the nuances of daily care in different settings, she says she enjoyed the chance to see interesting procedures like, for instance, placing a heart stent in a patient.

“I had a lot of opportunities to shadow in different departments,” Brueggen says. “So if you’re more interested in one area or another, you have a great opportunity to see what they’re really like.”

5. You’ll face your fair share of challenges

“Sometimes after clinicals or class you’re going to feel like you’re on top of the world, other times you’ll feel like you don’t know anything and want to cry,” says Brueggen. “Just hang in there. It’ll be done before you know it.”

The bad news? Your clinical experience have plenty of difficulties. The good news? You’re in nursing school so that feeling isn’t new territory. Learning any complex subject is a bit of a rollercoaster. You’re going to have a low point or two, but as long as you keep your eye on the prize everything will be worth it.

6. It will make everything worth it

"Once I got into my clinicals it really helped solidify that this is the right career for me."

Brueggen says her hands-on clinical experience erased any doubts she may have had going into nursing school. Nursing isn’t for everyone, and nursing school is definitely not for the faint of heart. But Brueggen believes nursing clinicals give students a much-needed taste of the profession to keep them pushing forward.

“It was hard in the beginning when I was just learning concepts and taking tests in the classroom,” Brueggen says. “Once I got into my clinicals it really helped solidify that this is the right career for me.”

Make the most of your nursing clinicals

Feel a little better? It’s important to remember that the nervousness you may be feeling about starting nursing school clinicals isn’t anything new.

Keep in mind that every nurse you’ll meet along the way was once in your shoes. Embrace this learning experience, ask questions, do your best and remember why you chose nursing in the first place. You’ve got this!

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of your nursing school clinicals? Get advice from seasoned nurses in our article: 7 Expert Tips for Getting the Most Out of Nursing School Clinicals.


Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen College. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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