What Do You Do in Nursing Clinicals? What to Expect and 9 Helpful Clinical FAQ’s

by | Feb 26, 2023 | Nursing Student | 0 comments

Nursing school clinicals can be a bit intimidating at first, especially if you don’t know what to expect. You might be asking yourself, “What do you do during nursing clinicals?” Let’s discuss what clinicals are like, what to do if you don’t know what to do, and some FAQ’s.

What do you do in nursing clinicals: nurse pulling supplies from supply room

What Do You Do in Nursing Clinicals?

During nursing school, clinical rotations are a critical component of your education, providing you with hands-on experience in real healthcare settings. Here’s a general overview of what a typical inpatient nursing school clinical might look like, though keep in mind that experiences can vary.

Clinical Prep

Before your clinical day begins, you’ll be assigned a patient. This requires you to delve into their chart the day before your actual clinical rotation. It’s essential to research and understand their medical history, current condition, and any specific treatments or medications they’re receiving. If you encounter medical terms, procedures, or medications that are unfamiliar, make sure to look them up. This preparatory work is crucial for providing effective care and making the most of your learning experience. (Plus, you’ll look like a pro!)

Working With the Patient’s Primary RN

On the day of the clinical, you’ll work closely with the patient’s primary nurse. This partnership is an invaluable part of your learning, as you’ll likely shadow the nurse throughout the day. They will introduce you to various tasks and responsibilities, allowing you to perform certain actions under their supervision — but only after you’ve been officially checked off by your clinical instructor. This process ensures that you’re adequately prepared and knowledgeable about the procedures you’re performing, guaranteeing both your safety and that of the patient.

Patient Care

Your involvement with your assigned patient can include a range of duties, from administering medications and documenting their care in the medical records, to conducting patient assessments and providing education on health management. You’ll also learn to implement doctors’ orders, which might involve changing dressings or IV fluids, among other tasks.

Moreover, clinical rotations are designed to expose you to the breadth of nursing practice. If there’s an interesting procedure or clinical situation that arises, your clinical instructor might pull you aside to observe or participate in the activity. These moments are golden opportunities for learning and are often highlights of clinical rotations.

Documentation and Assignments

Apart from the hands-on patient care, you’ll also be required to review your patient’s chart thoroughly and complete specific paperwork for your class. This documentation is an essential part of your learning, helping you reflect on your clinical experiences, understand patient care planning, and develop your critical thinking skills.

Remember, this description outlines a general flow of inpatient nursing school clinicals, and experiences can vary widely depending on the healthcare setting, the instructor, and the specific requirements of your nursing program. These rotations are an integral part of your journey to becoming a nurse, offering you the practical skills and knowledge needed to succeed in this challenging and rewarding profession.

Activities For Nursing Clinicals When You’re Bored

While you are likely working with just one patient, your patient’s primary nurse probably has 4+ if you’re on a med-surg unit. That means that the nurse will not be with you constantly and you’ll likely have some downtime. Let’s discuss some things you can do to maximize your time.

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”) at 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 patients, 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 to 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 them 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.

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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 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 For Other RNs

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 place them in the patient’s secure med bin.

This gives you practice removing meds and then saves the nurse that step. Ensure 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 That Are Running Low

Another activity for nursing students in clinicals is to stock personal care items to go into the supply room or nursing carts and notice 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 whose 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 much 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. Many patients have orders to ambulate, but many staff members don’t have time. Walking can become a 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)

What Do You In Nursing Clinicals – Final Thoughts

I hope this helped clear up some of the unknown around nursing school clinicals. It can feel a bit intimidating, but it’ll feel normal in no time. By knowing what to do during downtime, you’ll be able to maximize your learning so you can feel confident sooner. Also, by being active during the entire time at clinicals, you’re ensuring the staff has a positive experience working with you!

Pro-tip ➡️ Were there any nurses in particular that you bonded with? Ask them to be a reference for when you graduate nursing school and start looking for jobs! Networking begins in nursing school, so make connections everywhere you go!

Got any questions or tips for other new nursing students? Drop them in the comments below 👇

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What Do You Do In Nursing Clinicals – FAQs

What Does a Nursing Student Do in Clinicals?

During clinicals, nursing students perform a variety of tasks, including:

Assisting with patient care: This can involve taking vital signs, helping patients with bathing and grooming, and assisting with feeding and mobility.

Administering medications: Student nurses may be responsible for administering medications under the supervision of a registered nurse or their clinical instructor.

Observing and documenting patient status: Student nurses must carefully observe patients and document any changes in their condition, behavior, and/or hemodynamic status.

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.

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.

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.

How Can I Do Well in Nursing Clinicals?

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

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!)

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.

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.

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 an IG model. Show up on time, respect patients and colleagues, and maintain confidentiality.

Practice good communication: Build a rapport with patients and their families. Listen actively, ask open-ended questions, and respond with empathy.

Be proactive: Volunteer to help with tasks and procedures when appropriate. Offer suggestions for improving patient care and safety.

Reflect on your experiences: After your clinical shift, take time to reflect on what went well and what you could improve. Consider applying 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 must 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. Here’s a post that dives deeper into this topic.

How Do I Become Confident in Nursing Clinicals?

Confidence is vital in nursing clinicals. I believe that the best way to build confidence is to enter the clinical environment with a sense of familiarity. To do this, we have a course that you can check out that goes over basic nursing skills, or you can check out our full course catalog for more in-depth resources.

What Challenges Do Nursing Students 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.

How many clinical hours for nursing school?

This can vary widely, but expect to have clinical 2-3x/week for anywhere from 6-12 hours at a time during a semester. A common schedule is for classroom time to be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with clinicals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Let’s say you have an average 15-16 week semester. We’ll assume you will meet two days per week for 14 weeks for a 0700-1300 clinical. Let’s say Tuesdays are your Public Health clinical and Thursdays are your Pediatrics clinical. That would be 168 total clinical hours (84 hours for each class). You will also be expected to prepare for each clinical day with paperwork (like care plans) and likely write something afterward.

Can you take the NCLEX without going to nursing school?

No. To register for the exam, you must receive an “authorization to test” (ATT) from a nursing regulatory body. To get this ATT, you must submit your transcripts from an accredited nursing school, pass a background check, submit fingerprinting, and pay a fee. You cannot register for the NCLEX without this. If you do not have transcripts from an accredited nursing school showing that you have successfully graduated, you will not receive an ATT and, therefore, will be unable to register for the NCLEX.

Do nursing students get paid for clinicals?

No, they do not. Clinicals are part of college coursework, which you are actually paying for. So, technically, you are paying to be at clinicals.

What Do You Do In Nursing Clinicals: More Resources

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