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What to Expect During Your Clinical Rotation

*Original post released on 3/27/23

Well, you’ve gotten this far in your nursing program…but nursing clinical rotations can bring on a whole new realm of anxiety for students. Those jitters likely won’t disappear for the next clinical rotation or the one after that, so in this article, I want to outline a typical day in a nursing clinical rotation to help you understand what to expect, feel more in control and prepared, and feel less anxious. We’ll discuss what happens right before your clinical day begins, the typical course of the clinical day, and what happens afterwards. If you’re looking for other helpful articles about clinical rotations, check out these links here:

Now let’s get started by discussing what happens before that first day of clinical rotations (or, for some programs, this may occur that same day). Typically, either as a clinical group or individually, you’ll arrive at your clinical site, head up to the assigned unit, and have the charge nurse or your instructor assign you a patient to follow. Once your patient has been selected, you’ll review their medical and current admission history, gathering the data you’ll need to complete your assigned paperwork and be prepared to participate in the care of that patient.

The data you’ll be collecting will often include things such as their chief complaint, admitting diagnosis, labs and diagnostic studies, procedures, meds (scheduled and as needed), progress notes, prior medical and surgical history, etc. You can anticipate your instructor to assign paperwork such as completion of drug cards, a care plan, and possibly even a pathophysiology diagram or flow chart for their main diagnosis. Again, some programs will have this required in advance to that first clinical date and others will have you complete the assignments during your clinicals.

Moving ahead to that first clinical day, you’ll begin the day by meeting with your clinical group and instructor at the clinical site. Once your instructor has touched base with the group, you’ll go to the unit where your patient is and find the nurse assigned to care for them. Typically, rotations will start before change of shift so you can be present for report. You’ll meet with your nurse, introduce yourself, and observe/participate in the process of taking report. After this, nurses will generally assess their patients and you will be doing the same for your patient. This is when you get to break out those head-to-toe assessment skills you’ve been practicing on each other and mannequins in simulation lab. Make sure to take note of any abnormalities in their assessment and complete the paperwork that correlates with the assessment.

After this, you’ll want to continue working with your nurse to help them perform their daily nursing duties. Take advantage of every opportunity you get to participate in patient care or to travel with your patient for any diagnostic studies or procedures. Once you become a registered nurse, you likely won’t be afforded many opportunities to observe procedures done on your patient(s) unless, of course, they’re done at the bedside. Nursing school is the best environment to learn, observe, investigate, and get a feel for which specialty is right for you. Yes, you heard that right! You can start in a specialty unit…you don’t have to start your nursing career as a medical surgical nurse if you have your heart set on something like NICU or ER.

At the end of the clinical day, whether it’s for a set time frame or the entire nursing shift, you’ll likely have to meet with your clinical group and instructor again at some designated location on the premises. Here, you’ll take time to debrief about the day with other students and discuss major things you witnessed that day, ethical issues, skills performed, etc. Finally, you’ll either be expected to turn in your clinical paperwork from the day or be expected to complete it for a later date.

Nursing clinicals are meant to be a fun and exciting way to learn and apply the concepts and skills you’ve been learning didactically in the clinical setting. Now’s the time to attempt skills with cooperative patients, observe studies and procedures, ask questions, learn the typical routine of a nursing shift, and interact with other healthcare professionals. Take advantage of this time where everyone expects you to be learning; no one expects you to be fully competent. Prepare as much as possible concerning your patient’s condition and medications so you can interact with them safely, but try not to stress too much.

Clinicals are meant to be enjoyed and to augment your drive to become a nurse. Do the assigned prep/post work (it’s assigned for a reason). Don’t show up and act cocky, because that kind of attitude can become careless and promote a less than safe nursing environment for your patients. Take advantage of every single opportunity on the unit! I hope this article helped outline what to expect during your clinical rotations in a way that helps remove some of the anxieties you may be feeling. Until next time, happy studying!

Andra Alyse

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