ArticlesHow can nurses prepare for a successful clinical placement?

How can nurses prepare for a successful clinical placement?

Every medical professional will need to complete clinical placements, and these can take place several times over the course of a career. They happen in a range of supervised settings and offer practitioners new experiences, which are crucial to their education and career in the US healthcare system. During your placement, you will learn more about professionalism in healthcare, and you may feel inspired to explore a specialism and can start networking with experienced clinicians to gain insight into their roles. 

What happens during each placement is different and will depend on the environment you are assigned to. In general, there will be ward rounds with physicians, so you can see how they interact with patients and understand their processes of clinical reasoning. You will also follow nurses to learn about how the specific department works on a day-to-day basis. In addition, you might also shadow other healthcare workers if their role is relevant to your training. 

Clinical placements are an essential part of medical training

Many students observe the work of junior physicians in the outpatient and ER departments. You may have the opportunity to watch an anesthetic being given or a surgical procedure being carried out in the operating room. Finally, meetings are another key component of working in healthcare and take place on a multidisciplinary basis, as well as in smaller groups of co-workers. You are likely to sit in on many different meetings to see how social workers, mental health counselors, physicians and nurses work in tandem to achieve a goal. 

Every top university will organize placements that are aimed at the needs of individual cohort groups. Some will be more accessible to nurses who are just starting in the role, while others are tailored to the requirements of registered nurses who are pushing forward in their careers. As you transition to a nurse practitioner role, the clinical placement on the Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) degree at Walsh University will help you adapt to your new responsibilities. As a flexible program, it allows you to develop the advanced skills needed to excel in a senior healthcare role, and you can expect to graduate in just two years. 

What about once you’re there?

Even if you’ve done all the research, are highly organized and feel ready for the challenge ahead, you may still have questions about what to expect from a clinical placement. It’s a common concern of student nurses, even those studying for a graduate qualification, but the answer is quite straightforward. Primarily, the placement facility will be hoping for students who have a can-do attitude to the new situations they find themselves in. They will expect you to build your competencies without losing sight of the basics, such as chatting with patients and listening to colleagues. A willingness to tackle patient care tasks, such as personal hygiene or bed making, will also be welcomed, as will discussing your observations with senior team members. 

In terms of your learning objectives, there will be formal expectations, and your ability to meet these will be reported to your university. However, your supervisor will also be looking at the interpersonal skills you bring to the table. Being enthusiastic, helping without being asked and communicating effectively are all markers of professional excellence. Additionally, your attitude to confidentiality and to managing your emotions in front of patients will be considered. You will also be expected to speak up if there is a problem or you feel out of your depth. This is an important aspect of patient safety, so your supervisor and others in the ward will want you to be aware of your limitations, as well as the nursing code for the state. 

You will have a chance to familiarize yourself with the facility

Your university will provide you with plenty of information about the placement in advance. In fact, they will likely have worked with you to find a suitable location, one that meets your needs in terms of learning and travel. There will often be an induction day that allows you to have a look around the facility and familiarize yourself with the practicalities of your setting. If not, it’s worth contacting your mentor and arranging a visit in advance so that you can see the place and the people you’ll be working with. 

If you need to, get on the phone and introduce yourself as the new student nurse who will be starting within a few weeks. The ward will usually agree to see you, and this is a good time to test out a route, either on public transport or in your car. Find out more about the buses and trains or parking arrangements so that you don’t get any last-minute surprises on your first day. Learning a few names and faces can put you at ease and will give the impression that you are keen to get started. 

Have your questions prepared in advance

If you have any questions, ask people who have the time to answer and try to be flexible when it comes to taking on shifts. Ask about the type of shift patterns that are offered and how the points in between shifts are organized. Handovers can be complex, but it will help if you know what is expected of you when you first arrive and when you leave. Some placement providers may prefer to give you your schedule in advance with all your shifts marked out. Others will give you a look at your mentor’s shifts and ask you to work with them where possible. 

That means you can work alongside your mentor more frequently and take every opportunity to learn from them. At this point, it’s a good idea to read through any assessment information the university has provided and understand the objectives you have been given. Chat with your mentor about these and explain any concerns you have, as well as requesting specific learning opportunities in advance so that your mentor has time to get organized. 

Finally, be proactive in researching the facility you will be working for. Take a look at the website and learn what departments the facility is home to and the services it provides to the community. Furthermore, reading journals and industry newspapers can put you ahead of the curve when it comes to discussing the latest healthcare topics and trends with colleagues. 

Enquire about the ward in more detail

Find out what kind of patients are routinely treated in the ward and the type of conditions they will be presenting with. Learn the treatments that are commonly carried out and the medications that are given, as well as the intended effects of these. Ask your mentor if there is any research they recommend that could be of help before you start your placement and what aspects of care you should be focusing on. If you are dealing with very young children, different competencies are required in comparison to caring for teenagers or adults. Even if you have to ask these questions on the phone, it’s worth learning more in advance, then going off to research them in your own time. This gives you more confidence and takes the edge off your nerves, because there will be fewer surprises on the first day. 

Remember it’s not just you

If you are going into the clinical placement with a group of other nurses, a few will appear more confident than others. Some may even say they have no concerns, but it is unlikely that they really feel that way. Whatever those around you are saying, you should accept that it’s normal to have worries before you begin. Even if you are an experienced registered nurse who is pursuing further qualifications, it can be nerve-wracking to arrive on a new ward as a trainee. Although the medical environment will be familiar, the new role that you are taking on will not. You will need to give yourself time to work out how this new role is different from the one you are already involved with. Once you have considered the differences and the similarities, your confidence is likely to grow, and you will be more prepared for what’s to come. 

Forget being perfect

Remember that you are on this clinical placement to learn and grow as a medical professional. No one is going to expect you to be perfect on your first day or week of the placement. In fact, for all nurses and physicians, learning is a lifelong process that never truly ends. Furthermore, medical professionals use reflective practice because it helps them make sense of things they feel unsatisfied with and to work on improving themselves. Take away any pressure you have put on yourself to be perfect because this will make you feel better about the journey to come. Accept that there will be things you excel at, things you do quite well and things you need additional guidance to achieve. That’s part of working as a nurse and being a professional. Moreover, bear in mind that there will be many qualified people around to teach and support you through the process, and they will all have been in a similar position at one time. 

Mention any concerns you have to your supervisor

Although there will be many aspects of your placement that can be researched and considered in advance, you may still have concerns. If you have thought about the coming weeks and your on-site training, then identified a couple of issues that worry you, it’s best to speak out. Your supervisor will struggle to know what’s on your mind unless you make it clear – tell them what you are thinking so that they can offer help. This might come in the form of additional support while you are on the job, feedback or guided learning that you can complete before you arrive.

Delve into the specialism of your placement

Whether you will be taking up a placement in an ICU or a heart specialist ward, be sure to brush up on the ins and outs of treating patients in these environments. Look into what the most common conditions are, what the complications can be and which medications are most often used to treat them. Also, look into their side effects so that you can empathize with patients. You may also want to learn what alternatives there are, should the initial course be unsuccessful. Having a solid foundation in common terms means you will understand what is being said in meetings and can pick out the key parts of information shared between colleagues in a huddle.  

Practice the skills that will be relevant

If you are already a registered nurse, you will have a good set of practical skills that you have refined over a few years or more of practice. However, during your placement, you will likely be learning new methods and treatments that you may have never seen before. The more intrusive skills will often have to be taught on the ward under supervision, as it’s not possible to test these out in any other situation. Nevertheless, the less intrusive aptitudes, such as physical observations and documentation, can be tried out on a willing friend or family member. Perfect the art of taking manual blood pressure if you have not done it in a while so that you can get feedback on your technique from someone you know before working on a patient. Practice will help you refine the skills you already have and make you feel more confident in your abilities. Once you walk into the ward, you’ll be ready to take part. 

Make the most of this incredible time

Clinical placements offer an array of wonderful learning experiences. This is a unique time in your career, one that will lead to incredible new opportunities. Even though it can feel overwhelming at the time, once you have qualified and taken up a senior post, you will probably look back fondly on your placement, so try to make the most of this amazing adventure. 

Heather Jones
Heather Jones
Hello! I'm Heather Jones, a dedicated writer and expert in the fields of DIY projects, home improvement, and emergency preparedness. With over 15 years of hands-on experience, I'm committed to sharing practical tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your home and life.

Subscribe Today


Get unlimited access to our EXCLUSIVE Content and our archive of subscriber stories.

Exclusive content

Latest articles

Popular Articles

More articles