Nursing Clinicals: What to Expect in Clinical Rotations

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What are clinicals in nursing school? Nursing clinicals prepare student nurses to practically apply the skills they learn in the classroom or lab. Nursing school clinicals separate students into groups to practice basic skills utilized in different nursing specializations and receive evaluations based on their performance.

nurse smiling speaking with patient

At Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), nursing students will graduate with the knowledge and experience necessary to thrive in healthcare. For that to happen, students receive hands-on education in all aspects of patient care. Nursing clinicals are the medium through which schools provide practical instruction to build confidence and competency.

PLU’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program starts clinical rotations in the first semester to give students ample time to build skills and collect the required hours for graduation.

For nursing clinicals, our students are placed within Washington and Seattle’s finest medical institutions, such as Providence Medical Center in Everett, Washington, and Evergreen Health in Kirkland. There, they will gain experience and make connections that will benefit them post-graduation. But what exactly are nursing clinicals?

What Are Clinicals in Nursing School?

Nursing clinicals are placements within healthcare facilities that provide exposure to patient care in various specialties. In PLU’s ABSN program, students will complete rotations in:

  • Adult Health
  • Women and children
  • Mental health
  • Community Health

Nursing clinicals allow students to apply concepts and skills learned in the classroom or laboratory. They are designed to help refine students’ critical thinking, communication skills, ability to learn quickly and react on the fly, competence to interact with patients and staff and proficiency in basic patient care. While simulations offer practice in a no-risk environment, clinicals let students experience the realities and pace of a nursing career and meet course learning objectives.

nurse sitting with elderly patient

Explore the different types of nursing specialties and decide which one to pursue post-graduation.

How Do Nursing School Clinicals Work?

During clinical rotations, students are placed with a healthcare team to perform supervised nursing tasks with actual patients. These tasks allow students to practice communicating with patients and their families, an essential skill when working with people at their most vulnerable.

On the first day of your rotation, your clinical instructor will provide a tour of the facility and the unit you’re assigned to if you’re in a hospital setting. They will also introduce the important staff members to your role, although staff members vary daily depending on who is scheduled to work that shift.

At the beginning of each shift, your clinical instructor will hold a pre-conference — a recurring meeting to review the plan for the day, patient assignments and general rules.

Every rotation varies depending on the setting. Students may work directly under the supervision of their clinical instructor or with a registered nurse (RN) on that floor. Some common tasks students complete include:

  • Recording vital signs
  • Making beds
  • Bathing and dressing patients
  • Completing head-to-toe assessments
  • Helping patients walk to the toilet
  • Administering medication
  • Reviewing a patient’s medical history
  • Assisting with procedures
PLU ABSN students working on nursing skills

Your clinical instructor should rotate through students to supervise and answer any questions that may arise in their absence.

After each shift, students attend a post-conference meeting to discuss that day’s patients. This is the time for feedback and follow-up questions on issues encountered throughout the shift. Clinical instructors may also use this time to help students think critically about their patients and care.

Every school has its method for measuring success during nursing school clinicals, but students are typically monitored for attendance, participation and preparedness.

How Many Clinical Hours Are Required for Nursing School?

Depending on the program, nursing school clinicals can span the entire program duration. However, the number of hours students will spend in clinical rotations varies from state to state.

Each state’s board of nursing decides the hours needed to fulfill the requirements. At PLU, our ABSN program graduates students with the 600 clinical hours required for licensure per Washington’s State Board of Nursing.

How Do I Make the Most of Clinical Rotations?

Clinical rotations are a student’s chance to solidify skills they will use for the rest of their career. So, it’s necessary to soak up as much information as possible while you have the guidance of an experienced clinical instructor. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Ask for Feedback

Mistakes are inevitable when starting, and clinical instructors will not be afraid to tell you when you’ve done something right or wrong. However, there is always room for improvement, even when you get it right. Asking instructors for feedback when performing new tasks ensures you see continuous improvement and can complete tasks not just adequately but optimally.

2. Practice Teamwork

Clinical rotations mimic the real-life nursing experience, which includes being a part of a healthcare team. Nurses must work together to improve their patients’ conditions daily, which requires communication and a positive attitude. Forming those communication habits before your career has even begun will allow you to integrate into your future role more seamlessly.

Practicing communication among your peers will also help build connections with them. Your peers may become your colleagues post-graduation; by establishing a working relationship with your fellow students early, you set yourself up for better collaboration and understanding in the long term.

PLU nursing students in sim lab working with lab equipment

3. Develop Professional Habits

Think of nursing school clinicals as a trial run for the rest of your career. Arriving on time, showing enthusiasm, and dressing appropriately show your clinical instructor that you are taking your future seriously, improving your likelihood of receiving a positive evaluation.

The best advice for having a fruitful experience is to treat clinicals like any other job that requires trust and communication between employees and their superiors. Your instructors understand that life happens, but giving advanced notice if you can’t attend due to an emergency goes a long way toward developing a reliable reputation.

Don’t start your career on the back foot. Learn more about how to further your nursing career with networking.

Nurse working on computer

4. Cultivate Your Bedside Manner

Acting as a trusted and comforting presence for your patients can go a long way in assisting with their recovery. In what could be an uncomfortable or scary time, a nurse’s demeanor impacts patient receptivity to treatment and reduces healthcare utilization.

Putting patients at ease may be as easy as lending a sympathetic ear. Patient-centered communication, the technique of listening to patients without judgment or interruption and incorporating their input into their care plan, is shown in studies to improve outcomes.

Nursing clinicals are the best setting for implementing patient-centered communication. Students have fewer patients to monitor and more time to give individualized attention and understand their patients better. Take the time to review charts diligently, update families, follow up on lab and imaging results and discuss diagnoses with patients.

Starting these habits early will advance your training and set you apart from your peers regarding positive patient interactions.

Start Your Nursing Education at Pacific Lutheran University

PLU nursing students talking in simulation lab

Nursing school clinicals are among the most critical elements of nursing education. Proper training and guidance are essential to starting a nursing career with the experience needed to thrive.

PLU’s ABSN program pairs prospective students with a dedicated admissions representative to help them through every step of the process, all the way to the program’s start. Our focus is always to guide students to become their most successful selves.

Contact our admissions team today to begin your path toward a future in nursing.