6 Things I Learned from Nursing School Clinicals

Curious about clinicals? Chamberlain University Houston campus student Roma Patel recently shared her tips for not just surviving, but thriving during nursing school clinical rotations.

Going to your first clinical rotation is always daunting, but it was something I was excited for since my very first day of nursing school. There is so much mystery and uncertainty surrounding your first day, but with a cup of coffee and a comfortable pair of shoes, there’s nothing that can stop you! Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Start with a Positive Attitude.

Every clinical day is a new day to learn, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that when there’s negativity in the air. It’s easy to complain with your peers, grumble about the clinical site that wasn’t your first choice or even the grouchy nurse you got paired with for the day. But if you step out of the cloud of negativity and adhere to a positive mindset, you can make the most out of the experience. Ask your clinical instructor what you can do to improve, branch out in the hospital that you’re in and see if there are any new units that interest you, or ask your preceptor if there is anything you can do to help them. With a positive attitude, you’ll be surprised at how much more you are able to learn.

2. Pack Your Clinical Bag Right.

My clinical bag has evolved tremendously since my first clinical rotation. Now I prefer to keep a separate backpack for my clinicals so that I don’t get my paperwork mixed up with my school work, and so I don’t have to keep taking everything out. I also prefer a backpack over a shoulder bag or a tote bag because it’s easier to carry around while having my hands free.

In my clinical backpack, I always carry a handful of pens, lunch and snacks, hand sanitizer, ChapStick,® and my paperwork. As the days go on, you will be able to adapt your bag to include the things you discover you need the most every day.

As a side note, I also like to keep an extra pair of scrubs in my car in case of sticky situations!

3. Consider Using a Brain Sheet.

I learned about brain sheets during my first med-surg clinical. When I met my nurse for report, she and the hand-off nurse both pulled out a sheet of paper and began their report. The nightshift nurse was reading off of her paper and my nurse preceptor was writing things down on her paper. After report, I shyly asked why they both had papers. My nurse confidently replied, “It’s my brain.” She handed me a blank sheet of printer paper, and I got to work.

Since then, every nurse I’ve worked with has their own individualized version of a brain sheet, and I have adapted pieces of theirs into my own. (You can find tons of examples of brain sheets online.) Having a brain sheet makes it significantly easier to discuss your patients with your clinical instructors when they decide to make a surprise visit, and it keeps everything in one place. I know brain sheets are something I will keep using once I am a nurse!

4. Take Care of Yourself!

With the rush of nursing school, it’s easy to forget about your own health amidst exams, assignments and even clinical days. However, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Make sure to get lots of sleep and eat something for breakfast. Bring small snacks (I love to keep small chocolates inside my jacket!) and a lunch for long clinical days.

As nursing students, we’re often running around for our patients, but make sure to take bathroom breaks, use proper body mechanics, stay hydrated and wash your hands!

5. Seek Opportunities & Ask as Many Questions as Possible.

In every clinical day, there is always something new to do. I love to be on my feet and get the most out of every experience. When I meet my nurse in the morning, I always let them know which tasks I’m able to do as a student. If there is something specific I want to do, I let them know as well.

When I was in my med-surg clinicals, for example, I wanted more experience with IVs, so I let my nurse know that was one of my goals. If they, or another nurse on the unit, needed to start a new IV, they would call me over. If there is anything you want to try or practice, let your nurse know and make it happen.

Remember – clinicals are your days to get out of your textbook and into the field. It is impossible to know everything, so make sure you use your resources to find the answers to your questions. Use the internet, ask your nurse or clinical instructors, or even ask your peers!

6. Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

The clinical day flies by while you’re running around trying to get everything done, but don’t forget to enjoy it! It sounds simple, but have fun with the days you have at clinical. Whatever task you’re doing, stay positive and remember how much you’re learning about the nursing field, disease processes and your patients, and even how much you’re learning about yourself.

Check out Roma’s inside look at life at Chamberlain University’s Houston campus! You can also learn more about clinicals and other components of the curriculum in our Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program.

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