Skip to main content

How to Be Successful at Clinicals in Nursing School

Kitty graduated from nursing school in 2013 and has been working as a registered nurse in a hospital setting ever since.

Here are some tips on being successful in nursing school clinicals!

Here are some tips on being successful in nursing school clinicals!

Nursing School Clinicals

Nursing school is a time of learning and not only includes lectures but also includes hands-on experience in the clinical setting. The clinical setting experience is called "clinicals." Many students begin nursing school and are unsure as to what to expect during these clinicals. This is because many of the students have never worked in a hospital before, or perhaps they've worked in a hospital but not in a position focused on patient care.

In order to be successful in nursing school, one has to be able to succeed at the theory portion but also the clinical portion. Here are my top 5 tips to succeed at nursing school clinicals:

Have your stethoscope at the ready!

Have your stethoscope at the ready!

1. Be Prepared

The biggest and best piece of advice anyone can give a nursing student is to be prepared for clinicals. When I say be prepared, I mean in more than just one way.

A. Make sure you have all of your supplies and uniform ready the night before.

This includes but isn't limited to: stethoscope, penlight, scissors, notepad, pens, sharpie, watch with a second hand, and a pocket drug guide or drug guide app for your phone. It is also best to lay these items out the night before clinicals, that way you are more likely to remember everything the next morning. Also lay out your uniform the night before in its entirety.

B. Be prepared for medication passes and questions from your instructor.

For me the single most stressful thing with clinicals was being prepared for medication passes and questions from my instructors. In order to be prepared for these situations, do your research and study beforehand. Many teachers will give you your assignment the night before clinicals, so be sure to look up your patients' diagnoses as well as the symptoms that go along with those diagnoses. You'll also want to look up any medications that this person might be on or any medications that your instructor says you will be responsible for passing the next day.

If your instructor doesn't give you your assignment the night before, begin studying general medication categories and disease processes per your studies in school. I.E. Diagnoses: Diabetes, Cardiac conditions, Endocrine disorders, etc. I.E. Meds: cardiac meds, insulins, thyroid meds, pain meds, etc.

2. Humble Yourself But Don't Be a Wimp

One thing I discovered in nursing school clinicals is that it is very important to keep a sense of humility about yourself. You will find that many nurses in the clinical setting will be turned off to teaching students that have a cocky attitude about them, and on the opposite side of that if you show that you are humble and ready to learn you will notice more nurses and staff being more open to teaching you.

Be humble and know that you don't know everything...and portray that to your preceptors and staff members you come in contact with at the clinical setting. BUT at the same time, don't be a wimp. When I say don't be a wimp, I mean do not let anyone of the hospital or clinical staff members push you around or treat you with disrespect just because you are a student. If you feel like someone is being blatantly disrespectful, walk away and find a new preceptor or someone else who is willing to teach/help you. I have had too many experiences with nurses who refused to even talk to me in the clinical setting just because I was a student. Don't let these types of bullies push you around or make you feel like less than them because you're not, and at some point they were in the same position as you!

3. Be Eager to Learn & Show It!

Another problem that many nursing students find in the clinical setting is someone who actually wants to teach them. Many of the nurses have bad experiences with students who are lazy or who show no desire to actually learning in the clinical setting and this turns them off to wanting to teach other students. This is a real shame.

My advice is to be eager to learn in both class and the clinical setting, and learn how to show it! Like I said in the last tip, if you come across a nurse who is not willing to teach you or who is being disrespectful, ask your instructor for a new preceptor for the day (if possible). This shows that you are indeed eager to learn and want to be with someone who is willing to teach. If you are unable to switch preceptors for that day, do all you can to help the nurse and show her that you are there to help but also want to learn. I have found that many times they will warm up to you and you will end up learning something by the end of the day.

Take every opportunity to give injections and meds!

Take every opportunity to give injections and meds!

4. Take Every Opportunity

You will learn more through experience than through hearing/seeing lectures in class, so take every chance you get in the clinical setting to learn! This means if your nurse for the day asks if you want to try a new skill, say yes (as long as you are allowed to by school/hospital policy)! Even if the skill is something you don't know well or haven't done on a real person yet, give it a shot. Usually the nurse will be right there beside you to guide you, or you can always ask your instructor to guide you through the process (if you feel comfortable enough around your teacher). This goes without saying but do anything you can within're not going to help perform open-heart surgery but you can insert a foley catheter, right?

Also, if a nurse or doctor asks you if you want to observe a procedure or skill of some kind being performed, say yes! Take every opportunity that is given to you in the clinical setting. You will learn more in the hospital than you will learn by a me.

What I would do each semester is I would set a goal for myself. I.E. My second semester I told myself that I would become somewhat efficient at hanging IV fluids by the end of the semester. I set this goal for myself because it was a skill that I was somewhat nervous of doing...and by the end of the semester I had done it a handful of times and was much more comfortable with the skill. My last semester I set a goal to successfully start an IV, and I did it. I conquered my fear and took every opportunity to do so.

Participate in a poll:

5. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Nursing students can fall into a rut of not asking questions for various reasons. A. They are afraid to ask questions or B. they don't know how to ask questions in the clinical setting. I say don't be afraid to ask questions while doing your clinicals. It's always better to ask than to mess up, right? Now with some things you will have to kind of teach yourself, i.e. where certain supplies are kept, how best to assess your patient, etc. But with safety issues, medication administration, procedures, etc. always ask your nurse questions or your instructor.

You might not learn as much if you don't ask questions in the clinical setting. For example, if you don't know why you're giving a patient a certain med, you can even ask the patient why they are taking the med! This is not only teaching you, but teaching the patient to educate themselves on their own medications. Usually you will find that the patient knows why they are taking certain meds, and if they don't? Then tell them you will find out (and hold the med until you know the reason, of course). That's just one example.

We've come a long way since this poster was released...but we still have a long way to go!

We've come a long way since this poster was released...but we still have a long way to go!

Are you ready for clinicals? Quiz yourself!

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which supply should you always have on hand for clinicals?
    • mirror
    • stethoscope
    • calculator
  2. What should you do if you have a nurse who doesn't want to teach?
    • Ask your instructor politely for someone else.
    • Tell her off and go sit in the cafeteria.
    • Ignore her and do your own thing.
  3. What attitude should you exude as a student nurse?
    • Conceitedness
    • Laziness
    • Eagerness to learn and humility

Answer Key

  1. stethoscope
  2. Ask your instructor politely for someone else.
  3. Eagerness to learn and humility


Mike steel on September 06, 2014:

great hub

Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on January 08, 2014:

Thanks, randomcreative! :)

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 20, 2013:

Great advice! All of these tips are applicable to anyone completing a clinical rotation (i.e. med student, dental student).