Providing nurses and other health professionals with the best possible education results in a better quality of care for patients. To ensure their students are as prepared as possible when they move into a real-world role, medical schools add clinical nursing placements in relevant settings to the curriculum. During their time on placement, trainee nurses will learn or refine their competencies through practical experience. They will be expected to give physical examinations, read through and update electronic medical records, and communicate effectively with the patients they care for. Their professionalism and ability to function in a busy, demanding workplace will also be tested as they train for their future role.
The benefit of clinical placements
Even for post-graduate students, clinical placements are known to have substantial value. They are considered to be an intrinsic part of how students learn and are scheduled into every quality educational program. At Texas Woman’s University, the Nurse Practitioner Placement provides real-life experiences which offer significant benefits to the learner, and these experiences cannot be replicated in any other environment. Registered Nurses who are hoping to progress their careers can enroll in the university’s Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program, and in just two years of full-time study, they will be ready for a more senior role.
Medical schools introduce the placement unit to their students at different times. Occasionally it can be as early as the first year of study. Depending on their previous experience, this can be challenging for some trainee nurses who might feel they are not yet ready to be useful in a medical setting. However, even if the provider waits until later in the program, some people will still have concerns about being let loose on a real ward with real patients and only their academic knowledge to fall back on. After the learning process comes the practical element, and naturally, people feel nervous, and excited, often all at once.
Preparing for success
Knowing what to expect can calm much of the nervous energy. For the vast majority of nursing students on a clinical placement, their training kicks in and they perform well—especially as they are supported by the rest of the facility’s medical staff. Everyone who starts work in a hospital or clinic as a trainee should expect to be treated as a valuable member of the team and fully integrated into the day’s work. In most cases, a supervisor will be assigned to each student. A supervisor will be someone who has been trained to take on a mentorship role and treat their charges compassionately. Students need to be driven and motivated to succeed, as well as properly prepared for the task at hand. What follows are extremely important lessons in clinical practice, insight into how wards work, and afterward, the chance to reflect on the experience.
Before the clinical placement begins
The first time that students enter a real clinical setting it can be daunting, but by preparing for what’s to come, they can allay some of the nerves. Checking the address, viewing the area on Google Maps, and working out a route before starting a placement can be useful. If they will not be driving, then it’s important to know the timetable of a public transport option. Finally, the university will usually provide all the details a student needs in terms of contacts and exacting meeting points. Going over these before the first day is advisable, especially if the placement will be at a large city hospital.
Getting into the zone
Despite their relevant inexperience, it’s important for students on placement to look and act professionally. Looking professional can help with a student’s confidence and also demonstrates to the team that this person is willing to put in the necessary effort. If there is no uniform or official dress code, clothing that is smart but comfortable enough to move around in during a long shift is ideal. Most medical professionals keep their arms bare below the elbows, so short sleeves or sleeves which can be rolled up are the best. As well as dressing the part, students should revise the information they have been given on their placement and also do some extra learning around any relevant topics. This is a good confidence booster for when the clinical tasks begin.
Exploring the facility in advance
It’s a good idea for student nurses to visit their placement facility before the start date. By looking around and exploring, they can get a feel for the place and find out where things are in advance. It can be beneficial for students to introduce themselves to their colleagues before starting. Staff will appreciate students who introduce themselves and spend some time in the facility, as they will get a feel for how things work before they start work.
Planning for the placement
Having a plan for the entire placement can help students meet their learning goals. This can also be broken down into daily aims. If there is a patient with a condition that a student wishes to see, or they want to see an ECG being carried out, or an IV being set up, they should mention this to their supervisor. Mastering as many clinical and administrative skills as possible makes the placement worthwhile. This is also a good time to understand what the culture of a medical setting is like, and learn what is considered acceptable behavior on the wards and what is not. There is a huge amount to take in, but with a daily plan and plenty of feedback, students can succeed.
During the placement
To get the most out of their placement, students need to have experience with a diverse group of medical professionals and a wide range of patients. Under supervision, they should take part in hands-on clinical practices that are appropriate for their competence level. Providers should also ensure students have time enough for rest, asking questions, and forming friendships with members of the team.
Show enthusiasm for the work
People who are eager to learn and interested in the activities of a medical facility are the ones physicians prefer to teach. Students with an open mind, who keep themselves busy and get to know their colleagues within a few weeks of starting their placement will get the most out of it. The ward will be their base for up to a month, so it’s crucial for them to become familiar with the nursing team, as well as the administration staff and anyone else who can provide insight into how things work. If they are placed in a specialty department that they wish to pursue as a graduate, nurses should let their supervisors know and ask to get involved with research projects, or other additional tasks that could broaden their knowledge.
Stay on track with help from the rota
Not all clinics and hospitals make them available to student nurses, but where possible, getting hold of a staff rota can be useful. It’s a good way of finding out which clinics are running and who is on-call for the next week. That can give students an opportunity to plan what they’d like to see and do, then request these activities when they arrive on the ward.
Volunteering for challenging tasks
Carrying out procedures accurately the first time around is something that all students want to achieve. However, in the real world, attaining this level of skill is all about practice. That means nurses will often have to complete procedures that make them uncomfortable. This can be scary, but placement is the best place for this kind of practice, as students will have the support and guidance of a professional to assist them. By the end of their placement, trainees should be ready to try out their skills whenever the opportunity presents itself. The more often they try, the more comfortable and confident they will become with each procedure.
Forming a network
The people who are working on the ward as juniors were in the same position as student nurses just a few months or years ago. By speaking with them, nurses can learn more about the transition from medical school to a professional work environment and ask for advice on any aspect of the placement that is troubling them. Along with medical know-how, they can share tips on balancing professional commitments with a personal life and planning a career. This is the beginning of a wider network that all student nurses will eventually form and draw on for support, even when they have qualified.
Making the most of each day
Even quiet days can be learning opportunities for nurses who are engaged with the process. Observing how the ward clerks complete their duties, how experienced physicians communicate with other practitioners and patients, and how patients react to their treatments, is all useful experience. When a patient is talking about an unusual or interesting condition, it’s worth the student hanging back to take notes of their own and practice recording with accuracy. Although there are always people to guide the learning of a trainee, those who take the initiative could gain more from their placement.
Attending additional lectures and seminars
The majority of hospitals and clinics have guest lecturers for entire departments, and teaching sessions which are run for the benefit of their junior doctors. Student nurses can ask if they are permitted to attend these. Some lectures may tackle subjects they are not familiar with, but most will be understandable and include aspects of clinical practice. This helps students to consider the applications of the coursework and research they are doing at university.
Self-care is important during nurse training
This is an exciting time in the life of any nurse, whether they are involved in a placement as part of a first degree, or as a post-graduate student. Among all the new experiences, new people, and fresh challenges, it’s important that trainees find time to look after themselves. Feeling unprepared and unsure is common, but student nurses can tackle this by ensuring they have a few evenings off over a week. The time should be set aside to relax, reground, and unwind in any way that fits in with their healthy lifestyle.
For some, having a long soak in the tub works wonders; for others it will be a binge-watch of their favorite Netflix series. The key thing is to forget about the responsibilities of work for a few hours regularly. If this type of self-care is not working as well as it should, then nurses should feel confident in asking for help, either from their loved ones or another professional. Their supervisor on the placement, the pastoral support at medical school, and even their own physician can offer advice.
A professional approach is crucial
It’s a common-sense tip, but arriving on time and ready for work is an essential part of the clinical placement experience. It demonstrates professionalism and that the trainee is serious about working in a medical environment where punctuality can make the difference between life and death in some circumstances. This extends to asking about personal protective equipment and using the items which are provided, as well as having excellent personal hygiene. Furthermore, medical professionals would never share the details of a patient or their condition outside of the hospital setting, and students should follow their lead.
Asking questions is a positive trait
Student nurses can feel intimidated by more experienced, qualified, and senior members of the team. However, in reality, they have all gone through exactly the same process and are usually willing to answer questions or talk trainees through the procedure. This helps to improve a student’s understanding of the standard processes a medical professional undertakes, but also the unexpected events they could encounter and how to deal with these. Many students on placement carry a notebook so they can jot down information they want to remember. This can be useful for revision and reflection work later in their course.
Learning every element of ward care
Although student nurses are usually keen to get involved with the more exciting aspect of medical care, there are other useful ways of getting to know the routines of life on a ward. Taking part in board rounds, recording stats, examining patients with common conditions, and listening to heart murmurs are all useful, practical experiences.
A willingness to help without being asked
From time to time the medical team who are supporting a student on their placement will be too busy to provide learning opportunities. At these points, trainee nurses should act on their initiative and get involved with the many smaller jobs that make a difference on the ward. Fetching a drink for patients, stopping for a chat with the family of patients, or answering phone calls and taking a message are all helpful. By completing these tasks, student nurses save the resident staff time and make life better for patients. They also benefit by gaining day-to-day experience of life in a clinical setting.
Making time for academic study
Most nursing students will need to keep up with the academic side of their program whilst experiencing the practical side. To manage both of these commitments successfully, it’s a good idea to create a revision table. This should factor in time off for socializing and relaxing, as well as hobbies. Sometimes it will be easier to use a library that is closer to the placement for revision and study. Students can also get together with people who are in their placement group to have study sessions. As with all forms of revision, it is best to begin with the most challenging topics, then break them down into manageable chunks. This ensures that trainees are not stuck with a huge amount of work at the end of a semester and have to resort to cramming information before a big test.
When the placement is over
Physicians and nurses at all levels of seniority use self-reflection to improve their practice. It allows them to process the events of the day and gain the most knowledge from their experiences. The same is true for student nurses who are just getting to grips with clinical activities in the real world. Not everything will go to plan, but it is as important for them to consider those challenging moments as it is to think about what they did well.
Keeping a journal can be a good method of organizing their thoughts and recording their feelings to look back on at a later stage. Noting their feelings toward others, both patients and staff, is also useful. These insights teach an important skill, empathy, as they help nurses think about how their actions impact other people.
Clinical placements are learning experiences and to make the most of them, students should ask for feedback from their team. Understanding what their strengths are and what could be improved is useful whilst in training, but it may even suggest a future career path. To maximize their time on a placement nurses should be approachable, remain positive, and be eager to learn at every opportunity.