What Are Nursing Clinicals?

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Nurse performing clinical chest examination

After successfully completing hours of tests, months of classes, and years of study, it’s finally time to tackle those nursing clinical experiences. Nursing students’ first clinical can be intimidating. What’s going to happen out of the classroom and on the floor putting studies into practice? After absorbing the information in class, there will be pressure to perform. And what are nursing clinicals? What are the expectations during your first clinical experiences?

Why Are Nursing Clinicals Important?

Classroom and online learning can be useful for learning many aspects of nursing. However, to master certain nursing skills — conducting physical examinations, drawing blood, and providing hands-on patient care, for example — nursing students must practice on real patients. During nursing clinicals, students are placed in clinical settings under close supervision. They receive explicit instructions and must follow the appropriate clinical procedures and protocols while adhering to all guidelines and policies. Graduate students learn in a plethora of clinical environments and engage in hours of advanced practice, as required by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Nurses combine their knowledge of the biological, physical, and social sciences with their interpersonal and problem-solving skills to provide patients with the best care. To hone all these skills and gain direct practical experience working with practicing nurses and physicians in patient care settings, nursing students participate in clinicals. The benefits from the experience form a vital component of their learning process, enabling them to become accustomed to real workplace environments, expand their knowledge bases, and translate theory into practice.

What to Expect During Nursing Clinicals

Because nursing students work in many different settings when gaining clinical experience, it’s difficult to narrow down exactly what clinicals will be like. Students might work in veterans hospitals, nursing homes, hospitals, or mental health departments. These different settings not only give nursing students opportunities to determine which areas interest them the most career-wise, but also introduce them to potential post-graduation employers and coworkers — it’s never too early to start networking.

Before participating in clinicals, nursing students must pass a physical examination and a background check, which should happen soon after they are accepted into the nursing program. Clinicals can require students to commit to work shifts that can last up to 12 hours. Because of the time commitments, nursing degree programs often offer a wide variety of days and hours for students to complete their clinical requirements.

Often during clinicals, a student is allowed to work directly alongside an experienced nurse, who coaches the student along the way. Students gaining clinical experience will learn common nursing skills they’ll have to use frequently once they’re practicing nurses, such as inserting IVs, taking blood pressure readings, and administering medicine.

Tips and Advice for Succeeding in Nursing Clinicals

Getting hands-on experience through clinicals can be exciting and intimidating, but the knowledge gained is essential. To get the most from their experiences, nursing students must remember the following:

  • Be on time. Even though students aren’t paid for clinicals, they should treat every shift as if it’s their job. They should allow time to arrive prepared. If they have an emergency or otherwise need to be absent, they should inform their supervisors, just as they would for another job.
  • Ask questions. Students with any issues, problems, or questions should speak up. The instructors are there to transfer as much knowledge as possible. Students who feel they’re not getting enough opportunities to practice certain tasks should speak to a supervisor to remedy the situation.
  • Look and act professional. Students completing nursing clinicals should adhere to all organization or school dress and behavior codes and make sure they have all required supplies.
  • Be prepared. Students should keep in mind they’re not expected to remember everything. By preparing as much as possible ahead of time — keeping up on studying and reading — students have a better chance of succeeding during their clinicals. They should also become familiar with the medical histories and current ailments of the patients who’ve been assigned to them.
  • Volunteer to help. Students who receive the most benefit from their education are proactive in their learning. Asking for something to do or offering to help in an emergent situation could mean learning a new skill or completing an unfamiliar task.

Nursing students should remember the following tips, some of which may seem like common sense but are still good to keep in mind:

  • Take and complete all assigned duties and tasks.
  • Perform duties and tasks with a positive attitude.
  • Encourage a positive team atmosphere.

Nursing is a high-pressure career that can also be very rewarding. The sense of accomplishment  that comes with a successful clinical rotation indicates that students are ready to handle day-to-day clinical patient care. Knowing what nursing clinicals are and what to expect from them, as well as how to survive the experience and thrive, position nursing students for clinical success.

Learn More:

Now that you know more about nursing clinicals, contact an enrollment adviser today to find out which online Master of Science in Nursing program at Regis College could work for you.

Recommended Reading:

What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

How Nurse Practitioners Can Close the Gap in Healthcare

Nurse Practitioner (NP) Specializations and Concentrations




Houston Chronicle


US News and World Report

National Council of State Boards of Nursing