What to Expect During Nursing School Clinicals

Today I am going to be going over what to expect during nursing school clinicals. Going into my first clinicals, I was SO nervous. I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t think I was ready to insert catheters or give injections to actual patients. In this post, I am going over what to expect in nursing school clinicals to help you get a better idea of how to prepare and relieve some anxiety.

Before we get into it, I just want to give a little background on me, in case you are new here. I am in an ADN (2-year) nursing program at a community college. I’m currently in the fifth quarter and am set to graduate in June 2022. After that, I plan on attending the RN to BSN program at a university while working. Prior to nursing school, I had no patient care or health care experience. Every quarter so far I’ve posted a recap of how it went, which you can check out below:

What to Expect During Nursing School Clinicals

Every school and hospital is going to approach clinicals a little differently. You might not have the same experience as me! In addition, every quarter approaches nursing school clinical differently and every unit! Regardless, most hospitals and programs will have the first day of clinical be an orientation to the hospital and unit. You will meet with your clinical instructor and get all the information that you will need (where to go during clinicals, etc.). This day for me usually wasn’t a day where we took care of patients.

During the first quarter at clinical, we were responsible for only one patient. As the quarters have passed, more patients have been added to our workload. We are now responsible for 3 patients at a time in the fifth quarter. Additionally, during our first quarter at clinical, we were able to look up our assigned patients prior to our shift. Now we go into the shift as nurses would not knowing anything about the patient.

What to Expect Caring for Patients

Usually, you will have a patient out of your nurses’ workload that is “your” patient. This is the patient that we are responsible for completing an assessment on during the shift, collecting all information for, taking vital signs, and writing a care plan for. However, the nurse that you are assigned to will have 2- 6 patients. It’s really up to the nurse as far as what you are allowed to do outside of the vital signs and head-to-toe assessment. The patient also has the right to refuse any assessments or skills that the student is going to perform.

Overall, I felt like most patients were understanding and wanted to help us students learn and practice our skills. If a patient opposed to having a student, sometimes we would become assigned to a new patient. Remember to not take anything personally, most patients do not want to be in the hospital and are stressed with a variety of different things. They are being poked and messed with all day and it can be very uncomfortable. That being said, don’t accept abuse from any patient and talk to the nurse you are with or your clinical instructor if you’re feeling uncomfortable.

What to Expect Working with Nurses

At the shift change, we would go up to the floor that we are working on and would be introduced to our nurse during the huddle. Some nurses are more open to having a student than others. I feel like my experience during a specific clinical shift had everything to do with the nurse that I was assigned to. Since you are working with a nurse, everything that you do, their license is responsible for. Because of this, some nurses don’t want you to practice some of the more invasive skills or pass meds. Other nurses want you to get all the practice you can and will have you do everything.

Going into clinicals you might have a paper that tells the nurses what you can or can’t do if you’re in the earlier quarters. For example, during the third quarter at my school, you can not do anything with PICC lines. Always bring this paper to show the nurse you are working with what you can’t do.

For the best experience, offer to do anything that you are able to do! If the nurse is about to give an injection or has to do a catheter, it can’t hurt to ask if you can do it. The worst they can say is no. I have found that by letting a nurse know at the beginning of a shift what my goal is during that clinical, they will find an opportunity for me to do it. This is how I was able to put in an IV the week after check-off! You can also offer to do any skills that another nurse working the floor has. This is a great option if you are having a slow shift, during charting, or when there isn’t much to do with your nurse.

Be Prepared

You should be prepared to do any skill that you have been checked off on. Always brush up on the skills that you are uncomfortable with. If you’re not, you might miss an opportunity. It can be hard to come by some skills such as IV insertion or foley catheters. It’s going to be nerve-racking at times, especially during your first time completing a skill on an actual patient (especially if you don’t have any patient care experience). But, the more you practice though, the more comfortable you’re going to become.

During the beginning of the quarter, try to get as many skills practiced on an actual patient as you can. If you do it once, it’s going to be much less stressful to do it again. Honestly, the most stressful part is not knowing when you’re going to be able to do it for the first time. After you’ve done it, it gets so much easier. If you’re concerned about a skill that you haven’t done before, ask if you can walk through the steps with the nurse before going into the patient’s room.

Final Thoughts

I hope this has helped you prepare for what to expect during nursing school clinicals! The big takeaways are to come prepared, don’t be afraid to speak up, and be confident! I know it can be nerve-racking, especially if you don’t exactly know what clinicals involve. If you’ve gone to clinicals, I would love to hear your experience so be sure to comment down below.

As always, you can find me on Instagram @maddie_deer here, or can follow me on my Facebook page to be alerted of any new posts here.

For more posts on nursing school and clinical, check out some of my previous posts below!

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