You’re at clinical, your patient is situated, and you don’t know what to do with yourself. You know you need to look like you’re doing something… but don’t know how to figure out what to do without annoying the staff. You will definitely get some downtime during clinicals sometimes. So let’s talk about some activities for nursing students in clinicals.

7 Activities for Nursing Students in Clinicals

Activities for Nursing Students in Clinicals

Following are some ideas of things you can do when you’re all caught up with your assigned tasks.

Review the Patient’s Chart

The first of our activities for nursing students in clinicals is to review the patient’s chart during downtime. Some things to review are:

  • What medications are they on?
  • What kind of history do they have?
  • Have they had any outpatient visits recently? What happened?
  • How did they come into the hospital?
  • How did they arrive (or “present”) to the emergency department?

You could also go into the order log history and see all the different orders that have been for this patient and discontinued.

Offer to Help the Nursing Assistants

Most hospital units have nursing assistants (CNAs, or sometimes referred to as patient care technicians) who take care of activities of daily living for their patients. These can include tasks like walking, feeding, bathing, and toileting patient, as well as obtaining blood sugars and taking vitals.

They tend to go around every 3-4 hours and “round” on their patients to check vitals and perform tasks.

“I’ve got some time and would love help you get your vitals done, if that’s okay.”

Likely, the CNA will appreciate the help, and you will get some more practice with taking vitals and charting. Go into the room with them, and you can chart the vitals while they get the vitals or vice versa. Frame it in a way where you can get some more practice and repetition, all the while demonstrating respect for their knowledge, experience, and expertise.

Tidy Rooms on the Unit

Often, patient rooms get messy and untidy quickly. Trays from meals, trash, or linen can pile up. With CNAs and RNs working so fast, when pressed for time, cleaning up these items falls to the bottom of the priority list. Therefore, it’s one of the cornerstone activities for nursing students in clinicals to simply tidy up patient rooms.

What this can look like: Go into each room and greet the patient.

“Hi, do you mind if I clear out these trays and tidy up a bit?” If they’re asleep, just quietly do it without waking them.

  • Take the dirty trays out of the room, and ensure to document how much they ate or drank from those meals. You can tell by looking at the meal ticket that should still be on the tray. Bring the trays to the dirty utility room.
  • Discard any trash you may see
  • Empty urinals or toilet hats and record the output in the chart
  • Remove dirty linen – and if the linen bin is full, take it out and get a new, empty one
  • Wipe down counters with a Cavi wipe
  • See if the patient needs anything before you go (warm blanket, ice water fill-up, etc.)

It’d be wise to ask the nurses and/or CNAs if it’s okay before doing so, but chances are this would be quite welcome.

Pull Medications

Depending upon where you are in your schooling, you could also ask your nurse or other nurses if you could pull meds for them. That means getting medications out of the medication dispensing machine, typically called a Pyxis.

You would look at the patient’s chart to see which medications are due next and then remove them from the machine, and placing them in the patient’s med bin.

This gives you practice removing meds, and then saves the nurse that step. Make sure you let the nurse know you did that so they know where to look.

Special note: You cannot pull out narcotics or special alert meds for another person

Stock Items

Another activity for nursing students in clinicals is to stock personal care items to go into the supply room or nursing carts and take notice of what’s in there and what may be missing.

Units tend to go through certain items faster than others, and some may not have a dedicated person who’s job is to check volumes and replenish. Your unit may also have carts in individual patient rooms with specific supplies, or cabinets outside of the room. This makes it so the bedside nurse doesn’t need to go all the way to the supply room to get common supplies.

First, ask the medical unit receptionist or charge nurse, then you can go to each individual cabinet or cart to survey what’s low and then go get more from the supply room and restock.

This familiarizes you with supplies and helps out the unit.

Help With Changes, Bed Baths, and Other Hygiene Tasks

If you notice a CNA is going in to do bed baths or change patients, you can offer to help. Many times, two people are needed to roll immobile patients anyway. You can observe what they’re doing to learn from them. But you don’t want to be pushy with the CNAs. Here’s a good way to frame it:

“Hey, if you have to do any bed baths or total bed changes, I’m game to help. I don’t have a lot of experience with them and just want to get some practice. Feel free to let me know if you’ve got one. I’d be happy to tag along.”

You can also help patients brush their teeth, wash their hair, and clean up for the day.

Walk With Patients / Ambulation

Finally, the last activity for nursing students is to see if any patients need to go on walks. A lot of patients have orders to ambulate, but many staff members don’t have time. Walking can become low priority when the nurses are focused on giving medications and other more pressing situations.

When you notice you’ve got some time, ask the RNs or CNAs if they have any patients who need a walk.

You’d then go to the patient’s room, ask if they’d like to go for a walk, and then take them around the unit! After, don’t forget to document that you walked with them and how far.

Activities for Nursing Students in Clinicals (Video)

Final Thoughts on Activities for Nursing Students in Clinicals

Nursing students have various options during clinical to make themselves more valuable if their task list is complete. These include stocking items, helping with bed baths and changes, walking with patients, and helping with hygiene tasks.

Nursing students should ask around to see what tasks need to be done and offer to help out, as I’m sure there are other things to do other than what’s listed. By pitching in, nursing students will gain valuable experience in clinical training and make the workday more efficient for everyone. This also gives the staff a positive experience working with you.

Nursing School Clinical FAQs

What Does a Student Nurse Do in Clinicals?

During clinicals, student nurses perform a variety of tasks, including:

  1. Assisting with patient care: This can involve taking vital signs, helping patients with bathing and grooming, and assisting with feeding and mobility.
  2. Administering medications: Student nurses may be responsible for administering medications under the supervision of a registered nurse or their clinical instructor.
  3. Observing and documenting patient status: Student nurses must carefully observe patients and document any changes in their condition, behavior, and/or hemodynamic status.
  4. Participating in interdisciplinary team meetings: Clinicals allow student nurses to participate in meetings with other healthcare professionals to discuss patient care plans and treatment options. This could be a large team meeting, or touching base with the interdisciplinary team members individually during the day as they round on the patients.
  5. Learning and practicing nursing skills: Clinicals provide hands-on experience with nursing skills such as wound care, IV insertion, lab draws, bed baths, urinary catheter insertion, central line maintenance, sterile technique, and patient assessment.
  6. Communicating with patients and families: Student nurses must learn effective communication skills to interact with patients and their families, including providing education on health conditions, treatments, discharge instructions, and support during tough moments.

Overall, student nurses in clinicals are learning to apply their classroom knowledge in a real-world healthcare setting, while also developing their clinical skills and building relationships with patients and healthcare professionals.

How Can I Do Well in Nursing Clinicals?

To do well in nursing clinicals, nursing students can follow these tips:

  1. Be prepared: Review the patient’s medical history and care plan before entering the clinical setting. Familiarize yourself with the equipment and procedures that will be used during your shift. (This is a very helpful resource to do so!)
  2. Ask questions: Ask your clinical instructor, preceptor, or other healthcare professionals questions to clarify your understanding of the patient’s care plan, the procedures, and your responsibilities.
  3. Be organized: Keep track of your tasks, deadlines, and patient information in a notebook or electronic device. This will help you manage your time effectively and avoid missing important details.
  4. Be professional: Follow the dress code and other policies of the healthcare facility. Now is not the time to prioritize looking really cute and obsessing over outfit choices. The goal is to learn how to be a nurse, not be an IG model. Show up on time, be respectful to patients and colleagues, and maintain confidentiality.
  5. Practice good communication: Build a rapport with patients and their families. Listen actively, ask open-ended questions, and respond with empathy.
  6. Be proactive: Volunteer to help with tasks and procedures when appropriate. Offer suggestions for improving patient care and safety.
  7. Reflect on your experiences: After your clinical shift, take time to reflect on what went well and what you could improve. Consider how you can apply what you learned to future clinicals and nursing practice.

Remember, nursing clinicals are an opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to real-world situations, develop clinical skills, and build professional relationships. By being prepared, organized, and professional, nursing students can maximize their learning and contribute to positive patient outcomes.

How Hard Are Nursing Clinicals?

Clinicals can be challenging, as it is a fast-paced and intimidating environment. You’re likely on your feet for hours, around completely new people, and feel out of place. Some people who excel in the classroom have a tough time with the social aspect of nursing, where you have to read the room, build rapport with patients, and make conversation.

Some students prefer clinical, while others prefer the classroom. Both are uniquely challenging, but it’s definitely doable.

How Do I Become Confident in Nursing Clinicals?

Confidence is vital in nursing clinical. I personally believe that the best way to build confidence is to enter the clinical environment with a sense of familiarity. To do that, check out this resource:

What Challenges Do Student Nurses Face?

Time management, stress and burnout, clinical rotations on top of in-class work and exams, learning complex skills for the first, learning how to communicate professionally, acclimating to being part of the healthcare team, financial strain/challenges, and learning new technologies (like patient care equipment and complex medical record software).

What Are the Different Types of Nursing Clinical Rotations?

Some common rotation types include medical-surgical, pediatrics, labor and delivery, intensive care unit (ICU), emergency room (ER), and operating room (OR).

You may also spend time in outpatient or inpatient pysch/behavior health units, community health settings like schools, clinics, and more.

More Resources on Activities for Nursing Students in Clinicals

Getting ready for nursing school clinicals, but feeling unprepared?

Skills Refresh 3 1

Nursing Skills Refresh from FreshRN is a self-paced video course for both new and experienced nurses. Whether you’re preparing for your first clinical experience, or need to brush up on your nursing skills, this course is for you. Each lesson walks you through the basic tasks and concepts you will experience in the clinical setting. Once completed, you’ll feel comfortable in a hospital setting, understand the basics of what the bedside experience will feel like, and know insider tips and tricks that will make you feel confident and in control.