Starting your very first clinical placement as a nursing student can be stressful. You may have heard horror stories from other students about their experiences, or you may generally feel self-conscious about being out of your element.
Since a clinical placement is likely your first opportunity to interact with patients and staff, feeling anxious or overwhelmed is entirely normal. There will certainly be challenges along the way. Still, these challenges will come with learning opportunities, ultimately helping you become a better nurse.
In this blog post, we'll share Nursa's top tips on how nursing students can make the most of their clinical placements.
Prepare for Your Clinical Placement
Before starting your clinical placement, spend time setting yourself up for success. Below are some steps you can take today to help you make the most of your placement:
- Introduce yourself in advance. You'll likely be given the contact information of someone at your clinical placement—so make use of this. Send an email introducing yourself, and let your preceptor know when to expect you. Alternatively, introduce yourself in person by visiting your clinical placement and asking to meet the on-site ward manager. It's a great way to make a great impression and familiarize yourself with the work environment.
- Show up early to your placement, especially when making a first impression. Aim to arrive a minimum of fifteen minutes in advance of your start time.
- Research your school or placement facility's appearance code. There may be standard rules on how to tie your hair, whether you can wear jewelry, or other aspects relating to your appearance or uniform.
- Practice assessments on anyone you can. Family members, partners, friends—everyone is fair game when you want to get as much experience as possible. Practicing the SBAR technique (Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation) provides a framework you can use to communicate about a patient's condition. The more you practice, the more confident you'll be when using this daily at your placement.
Take Every Opportunity to Learn
Remember that your placement is the perfect setting for you to see the behind-the-scenes in healthcare. You're there to observe, learn, and build your confidence as a nurse.
Ask questions. You'll face new situations every day at your clinical placement. Let your preceptor know when you have questions, and inquire about the best time to ask them. Some may prefer you to ask questions on the spot, while others may prefer to go more in-depth about particular issues at the end of the day's shift.
When you're given instructions you don't understand, ask your preceptor to clarify or walk you through what you need to do step-by-step. Don't just nod and pretend you understand—this will definitely backfire and won't help instill confidence. Asking questions can seem daunting, especially if you feel it's something you should already know. Still, it's genuinely the only way to get clarity.
You're there to learn as much as you can. Take the initiative to go beyond the scope of your placement. Explore opportunities to visit or shadow people in other wards and think beyond nurses—from physiotherapists to surgeons. Do not limit yourself.
Lean on a Support System
Don't forget your fellow students' role in supporting you during clinical placements. Inquire about whether your placement organizes regular get-togethers so students can meet, exchange experiences, and let off steam. If they don't already exist, consider volunteering to organize get-togethers yourself.
Get to know more senior students at your university or college. They know what it's like to be in your shoes because that was them not long ago! They can help answer your questions about placements and reassure you. Plus, senior students will often have more time than staff to pass on knowledge.
And remember: you can be part of someone's support system too. Provide a listening ear to fellow students and help create a trusted environment of mutual support.
Don't forget about online communities too. From nursing groups on Facebook to our online nurse community, you can connect and find solidarity from nurses across the country.
Prioritize Your Mental Health
Nursing school can be stressful, and being in a high-demand, fast-paced clinical placement can add to that existing stress. Remember to prioritize your mental health during the process.
Even if you have a packed schedule, take just a few minutes out of your day to meditate, practice deep breathing, or stretch. These practices can make a difference in how you respond to situations and handle stress.
Self-care in the form of bubble baths or face masks can only do so much. These de-stress tips will help you cope with or avoid burnout in healthcare.
Don't be afraid to seek help from medical professionals. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues have tangible implications on your physical health. If possible, speak with your doctor, visit a walk-in clinic, or reach out to a therapist. You can also explore what mental health supports are available through your nursing program or placement facility.
Final Tips on Clinical Placements for Nursing Students
While starting a clinical placement can be stressful and overwhelming for many nursing students, you can certainly take matters into your own hands by preparing in advance, fostering the right mindset, and taking every opportunity to learn.
If you've had a positive experience at your placement, especially because of a particular health care professional or nurse, let them know! Everyone values being appreciated—and this feedback can even lead to you having a long-term mentor who can support you long after your placement ends.
To rant or rave about your clinical placement experiences, join Nursa's online community. You'll meet like-minded students, nurses, and other health professionals who can support you along this journey.