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Top 10 Tips to Get Through Nursing School Clinicals

I start my nursing clinicals (RN program) in a few weeks and I’m terrified. I’ve heard horror stories from other student nurses about not feeling like they belong there and being afraid to make mistakes. Do you have any tips for me so I don’t feel like I’m going to fail before I even get there? Emma

Dear Emma,

Nursing school can be a stressful experience but some people feel the stress more than others. By preparing yourself, you can help reduce the stress and anxiety, making your nursing clinicals more meaningful for you. Being prepared and knowing how to handle the unexpected helps you get the most out of your clinical experiences. Here are 10 tips to help you get started:

1 – Prepare for clinicals the night before. Many nursing schools provide you with your patient assignments the night before your clinicals. If your nursing school does this, use this information wisely by researching everything you can about your patient or patients. The more you know, the less overwhelmed you may feel. If you don’t know your exact patient load, you can still study up on the most common issues that you could encounter on the particular unit or area you are assigned to.

2 – Get a good night’s sleep. The night before clinicals is not the night to skimp on sleep. You need to be able to be prepared to answer questions and think on your feet.

3 – Eat a healthy breakfast. If you’re doing a day shift, it’s vital to eat breakfast before heading to clinicals. You don’t know how busy you will get and when you’ll be able to take a break. By eating a good, healthy breakfast, you’re getting into a good habit for your working life and you ensure your body isn’t craving food when you should be concentrating on your nursing and your patients.

4 – Leave home early. Whether your clinicals are at a local hospital or a home health situation miles away, you never know if your travel time is going to be affected by traffic or public transit breakdowns. If you get to your destination without incident, being early allows you to prepare for your experience and troubleshoot if there are problems.

5 – Be prepared. Nursing students have some items they should always have with them, from notes and note paper (and pen!) to stethoscopes and other tools. If you use a PDA, be sure it’s charged.

6 – Once you are at your clinicals, be sure to ask questions if you don’t understand. While it can be intimidating to be the only one asking questions, even if you are, it’s entirely possible that your fellow nursing students have the same questions but are too shy or intimidated to ask.

7 – Think positive. This point can be tough for someone who isn’t feeling particularly confident, but by emphasizing the positive (look how far you are!), you can portray confidence. If you portray confidence, there’s a good chance you’ll start feeling it.

8 – Never guess. If you don’t know something, ASK. Guessing is one of the worst things you can do when dealing with medications, treatments, and – in reality – someone’s life.

9 – Remember that your patient is a person. Don’t fall into the trap of being the nurse for the patient in room 512 or the nurse for the post-op heart bypass. This makes a big difference in how you think of your patients and how you treat them.

10 – Remember why you are there: You are there to learn. If you make a mistake, admit it and learn from it. Don’t dwell on it. Chances are, it won’t be your first mistake and the best thing we can do with mistakes is ensure we don’t repeat them.

Nursing school and clinicals aren’t easy – if they were, anyone could do them. But you’re not just anyone, right?