When learning to become a nurse, it’s vital you gain some hands-on experience. While learning online provides you with lots of confidence and theoretical knowledge, there will come a time when you’ll need to go on a clinical placement.
These placements see you enter hospitals or clinics as a working student, shadowing people who already work in healthcare and learning how they handle their working days. Of course, every day will likely be slightly different so it’s always wise to keep an open mind.
Beyond the basics, what can you expect when you go on a clinical placement for the first time? What can you learn when you’re actively working on such a placement, and what should you prepare for?
In this guide, we’ll take you through some of the most important stepping stones you’ll face while applying your knowledge to a physical healthcare setting for the first time. Clinical placements can be scary and exciting at the same time — and here’s a quick rundown to help you prepare for that first big step.
How to communicate effectively
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As you’ll learn, communication is vital in all walks of healthcare. To deliver an exceptional care standard to your patients, you need to communicate clearly with those you care for and those you work with.
You’ll likely learn the basic facets and principles of communicating effectively while studying, such as through an accelerated BSN with Holy Family University. HFU actually promotes the importance of communicating early on, meaning it’s wise to expect you’ll stretch these muscles as soon as you enter the workplace (click here to find out more about what HFU has to offer via its online BSN).
Once you enter your placement, you’ll need to start applying that communication knowledge as soon as you meet your mentors and fellow nurses. You’ll need to start listening actively to instructions and start asking open questions.
This applies as much to patients as it does to fellow nurses and other specialists — open questions allow thoughtful responses. Communicating effectively early on shows you genuinely care about the input and support of others. In this role, you will need to rely on the people around you.
How far your study stretches
For some nursing students entering placements for the first time, the move from online learning to physical practice can be a little surprising. Building theoretical knowledge is ideal preparation for a variety of challenges, but you never truly know how far your study will stretch until you enter the workplace.
Placements allow you to practice essential skills and techniques in a setting you’ve not had the luxury of experiencing thus far.
For example, while you know in principle how to complete a head-to-toe assessment, you’ll get the chance to practice for real in a physical setting. You’ll have full supervision, but now is really the chance to demonstrate how much you’ve learned and how you can apply that to clinical practice.
There’s no need to worry if you find gaps in your knowledge or need to ask for help or guidance. A placement is a crucial link between gaining theoretical knowledge and officially entering the healthcare workforce. It’s a big step so take your time.
How to approach challenges
Alongside knowing how to apply knowledge and seeing how far it’s likely to stretch, placement students will immediately notice the scale of challenges they will face from day to day. While they will have some preparation from their course regarding potential cases and challenges likely heading their way, leaping into a placement will present these tasks thick and fast.
That’s not a bad thing. Placements provide an exhilarating, ever-changing landscape for student nurses who want to succeed and grow in the healthcare industry. They’ll get to know cases and patients over several days and weeks, but there’s always something new to apply themselves to.
It’s this level of variety and the scope of the challenges that may surprise students at first. However, they’ll have tutors and other nurses around them to help support their work and study. They’ll thrive on placement if they are actively listening, applying themselves to the role, and genuinely caring about delivering the best support for their patients.
How to support other team members
While team building and collaborative working receive a lot of coverage in BSN courses and online study, once you head to placement, this aspect of nursing feels a little bit different. Once you’re in the thick of it, you’ll learn about the chain of command.
For example, you’ll receive instructions on where your responsibilities begin and end. You’ll find out who your supervisors are, who you can rely on for mentor support, and who you will need to report to at different stages of treatment, diagnosis, and research.
You’ll also learn how to support specialists you must rely on for external insight. For example, you’ll likely work with doctors, other nurses, and those working in areas as diverse as endocrinology, oncology, and chiropractic care.
While you will naturally find your feet as you go, you’ll learn early on where your responsibilities lie. What happens if you don’t follow through on tasks X or Y, for example?
Learning your place in the chain of command and how you affect the work of other people in the same clinic or medical setting will help you to communicate better with those you aim to thrive alongside. Listen carefully and remember who you need to report to at all times throughout your working day.
Understanding the chain of command and how you’ll support others will also give you greater accountability. Accountability in nursing is vital — you’ll need to develop a strong sense of self and your place in a clinic’s setting, meaning placements are ideal for embellishing the growth you’ve already experienced during your study.
How to treat others with dignity and respect
While you will learn the basics of patient approach as part of your BSN or other nursing studies, applying said techniques in a physical setting is a rather different matter. Thankfully, a clinical placement will help you exercise these skills.
In a clinical placement setting, you’ll learn how your words and communication skills affect the people you care for. While it’s important to act ethically and truthfully when handling patient care, it’s just as essential to develop that famous bedside manner.
Even if patients may be less than forthcoming when communicating about care, you need to maintain a respectful attitude and be aware of your charges’ dignity. After all, people heading into clinics and hospitals may be scared, frustrated, or overwhelmed. They’re not necessarily operating at their best.
While you’ll likely have some experience in role-playing scenarios with patients via your BSN or other nursing courses, a placement expects you to exercise these skills for real. Don’t worry if you feel unprepared as you’ll have the support of mentors and other nursing staff to help you navigate challenges.
On a nursing placement, you’ll learn how and why your chosen tone is just as important as your words. As we all know, patient cases and personalities will always vary — and you’ll get to see a wide variety when on placement!
How to handle basic medication
While you will have some knowledge of medicine and treatments before entering a clinical placement, it’s reasonable to expect you to gain more knowledge about handling treatments properly while working in a facility.
For example, you’ll have the opportunity to work and communicate with pharmacists, who can give you hands-on support regarding choosing the right medication, measuring appropriately, and administering to patients in your care.
Again, while you’ll learn the theory and principles behind medicine and medication while studying your BSN, a clinical placement will show you how these choices and decisions directly affect the people under your care.
And there’s no need to worry about getting things wrong initially. While on placement, you’ll have the chance to check your work with a mentor or a shadower, who can show you their own knowledge and expertise to guide you along.
You’ll learn how to handle medication safely and appropriately, too, meaning you’ll learn more about the effects of certain medicines and what could happen if they are stored or placed inappropriately.
You’ll typically learn the potential effects of not storing and handling medicine appropriately during your studies. However, in a clinical placement, you’ll learn how and where to do so in a practical setting.
How to behave professionally
Learning how to behave professionally and ethically is one thing, but exercising this behavior is another. When on a clinical placement, you’ll have the chance to show professionalism in your work, how you communicate with others, and the attitude you display towards your work.
Building a professional attitude takes time, and we are all human — meaning we all have days where we find it easier and days where we find it more difficult. However, while on a work placement, you’ll benefit from seeing how those already working in healthcare handle their workloads, colleagues, and patients with the utmost professionalism.
This type of attitude is teachable, and you may even learn it via your BSN; however, it’s easier to practice and build from physical interaction. You’ll learn about ethics and integrity via your BSN or other nursing qualification but you won’t really know what a professional attitude looks like until you’ve seen it up close and have practiced yourself.
The professional attitude of a nurse revolves around the culture of respect and dignity we mentioned above. Professionalism in a healthcare setting means you’re always willing to help patients and other staff members in a proactive, determined manner. This is not a workplace where you can afford to slouch or cut corners!
You’ll learn that there are no ways to take shortcuts in nursing and, what’s more, why would you want to? Nursing educators and mentors will help you keep to a path that ensures you’re providing professional, reliable care to all your charges while remaining a dependable and approachable member of the nursing cohort.
How to manage your own workload and learning
While much of nursing and working in healthcare generally involves teamwork and collaboration, you will always need to manage your own time, workload, and ongoing learning practice. In some cases, the latter is known as self-guided study or learning, which you’ll likely come across at the very start of a BSN.
However, once on clinical placement, you’ll see why self-management is so important in practice. A clinic or hospital ward, for example, is an extremely busy place. Lives are at stake, which means it’s vital to balance your schedule and workload appropriately so you can apply yourself to areas of the job when you’re needed most.
Self-management in nursing often builds up through necessity, but other nurses and mentors on placement will help you take charge of your scheduling.
While on placement, you’ll also gradually learn how to think critically and how to make snap, reasoned decisions when time is precious. In the best-case scenarios, you’ll have a team you can rely on, but in others, you may need to make a medication or diagnosis call that revolves solely around your interactions with a patient.
While your solo work will build up gradually as you gain more experience on placement, you’ll likely face some self-management challenges soon after heading to the clinic. This is by design as nurses need to work well on their own as well as in teams.
How to handle the paperwork
It’s no myth that nurses and other medical professionals spend a lot of their time filling out paperwork! This is to the benefit of the patient as it means that nurses have a clear record of treatment they’ve received, recommendations made, and what happens from here on out.
You won’t have much experience in handling paperwork from studying your BSN alone, so placement experience is great for diving straight into how to fill, file, and use these details for future knowledge.
Your team will help you manage paperwork from the early stages of your placement onward. There will be a variety of forms and statutes you need to follow when you first get started, and what’s more, you’ll need to memorize how to fill in specific sections.
That comes with practice — and a work placement is ideal for ensuring you learn early on how to handle complex forms and demands so that care continues efficiently.
Paperwork is a necessary element of nursing practice that not everyone enjoys, but without it, care would slow down and patients’ (and nurses’) lives would be more difficult. Therefore, while you may have a basic knowledge of forms and procedures from your BSN, a work placement will show you how to actually fill and file these documents so you can keep the healthcare ball rolling.
You don’t have to know everything
The theme we’ve led with throughout this guide is that while entering a clinical placement as a nurse may seem scary at first, it’s a first step toward your healthcare career — and it’s actually pretty exciting! What’s more, you never have to feel as though you’re swimming in deep waters on your own.
You’ll always have mentors around you and members of an existing nursing team to back you up. As you progress via placement and get deeper into your career, it’s likely you will need to spend more and more time working solo on projects. However, this will be transitional — and remember, everyone you meet on the nursing team working with you will have been in your shoes.
Clinical placements are crucial milestones for nurses who are learning how to apply their skills for the first time. It’s a crucial step between theoretical study and practical application. Many find it daunting at first, but all of those who do take on clinical placements