What Are Nursing School Clinicals Like?

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Nursing school clinicals provide the opportunity to put your nursing skills and knowledge to the test in a live patient setting. Knowing what to expect during your nursing school clinicals and being prepared will help ensure you get the most out of your nursing clinicals.

nurse holding patient chart

Congratulations! You made it into nursing school. You have your schedule figured out, your binders color-coded and organized, and you haven’t missed a deadline yet!

In addition to your online classes and skills labs, nursing school clinicals are required as part of the curriculum. Nursing clinicals are where you put knowledge into practice in a safe and managed setting and start caring for real patients. Now that you’ve built knowledge and understand the concept of providing high-quality nursing care, what can you expect in your nursing school clinicals?

So, what are nursing school clinicals like? During clinicals, you’ll be paired with a registered nurse and finally get to practice perfect IVs and sterile dressing changes on actual patients.

Let’s review how nursing clinicals work and what to expect from nursing clinicals as a Harding University ABSN student.

How Many Nursing Clinical Hours Are Required?

Your school will ultimately determine the number of nursing clinical hours required for graduation. Due to facility and personnel constraints and hospital limits on visitors, many schools now require fewer clinical hours or use other non-traditional clinical experiences, such as simulations and skills labs, to supplement learning.

nursing student practicing on manikin

The primary nursing certification organization, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, requires graduation and satisfactory completion from an accredited nursing school but does not specify the number of clinical hours.

Another regulator of the number of nursing clinical hours will be your state’s Nurse Practice Act, written by the board of nursing where you live or plan to work. This board can stipulate the number and type of clinical hours required to practice nursing. The requirement varies from state to state and is often around 200 clinical hours before you can apply for your license, so check with your state.

Where Can I Do My Nursing Clinicals?

This is often the first question you’ll have about what nursing school clinicals are like. Nursing students can complete their clinical hours in several different places. Most of your hours will be in a local hospital's adult acute health care setting on a general medical or specialty care unit. Other rotations may include community health, mental health, obstetrics and pediatrics.

In your nursing clinicals, you will get various opportunities to practice your skills, such as checking newborn weights, administering medications and vaccines, doing health screenings, and providing patient education. As a nursing student in each setting, you will care for patients with chronic and acute conditions, helping alleviate suffering and promote healing.

How Do I Prepare the Day/Night Before?

The day or night before your nursing school clinicals, your instructor may provide a list of patients you will care for. You should look up their primary diagnosis and medications, including dose, frequency, route and indication, and have an idea of their nursing care plan for the day. (Note: your instructor may request a specific format, so be sure to ask.)

What Do I Wear to Nursing Clinicals?

portrait of nursing student smiling while typing on computer

Don’t be tempted to buy too much “gear” before entering the real nursing world. Nursing schools and hospitals often have strict dress codes for nurses in school clinicals, including school-issued scrubs with the school’s logo and your official name badge from your school or clinical site.

The two most important features of your uniform for nursing clinicals are cleanliness and comfort. Make sure you wear supportive shoes, as you’ll be on your feet most of the shift, and that your scrubs are clean and well-fitted — not so tight that you split them nor too loose that you trip over them all day. Also, ensure your hair is clean and pulled back.

What Time Should I Arrive?

Your instructor will give you the exact time but always plan to arrive a few minutes early for your nursing school clinicals. You’ll need time to park, find your unit or clinic, put your items away, find and meet your preceptor and prepare to receive a report from the off-going nurse.

Pro Tip: Be flexible. Your assignment may have changed overnight. Patients may get moved, and staffing needs may have shifted. Using your critical thinking skills and nursing knowledge gained from other aspects of your nursing program, jump in as best you can and communicate with your preceptor as questions arise.

nursing student working with sim manikin

What you can expect to learn in the Harding accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing track.

How Do I Receive a Nursing Clinical Report?

In the hospital setting, the nurse from the previous shift will report on the patient(s) he or she is transferring to you. Some nurses will be detail-oriented, while others will be more general. If you are well prepared, there will be few surprises. The SBAR, or Situation Background Assessment Recommendation, format is commonly used in health care and standardizes how medical professionals give and receive reports. Use your nursing school clinicals as an opportunity to practice and refine your method for giving and receiving nursing clinical reports. Familiarizing yourself with the SBAR technique is a good habit to start early.

How Do I Give a Nursing Clinical Report?

Using SBAR again, briefly but thoroughly share your patient’s day and what needs you anticipate they might have for the next shift.

The key to a successful clinical day is prioritizing patient care and delegating tasks when appropriate. If you’re unsure, ask your preceptor for advice on what tasks can safely be done by other team members.

ABSN student standing in sim lab smiling

Follow these helpful tips for successful nursing clinicals.

Pro Tip: Allow yourself time at the end of your shift to review your day with your classmates and instructor in a huddle, or write down a few notes in a journal on what went well and what you want to focus on next time. Student nurses must focus while in nursing clinicals but allow time to reflect, reset and relax once they get home.

Practice Makes Perfect

Knowing what to expect during your nursing school clinicals will help you feel more prepared for this exciting milestone in your nursing education. Nursing clinicals are a great way to practice the many skills you’ve learned and apply the knowledge you've gained in your coursework. Nursing school clinicals are also a time to explore what type of nursing you like because you can experience many different nursing settings. As a bonus, during your nursing clinicals, you’ll network with other nurses and health care professionals and create potential job opportunities for after graduation.

Now that you know more about what nursing school clinicals are like, contact us to learn about clinicals in Harding University’s ABSN degree program in Northwest Arkansas.