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I remember feeling excited, nervous and lost during my very first clinical experience. Those feelings made me wonder if nursing was right for me. But as I gained more hands-on experience and knowledge, I gained more confidence and my critical thinking skill improved. Here are 10 tips for making the most of all of your clinical experiences and building that confidence you need.

Learn the names of your unit staff members so you can greet them properly

This simple gesture makes a huge difference. Staff members are important and remembering their names gives them the respect and recognition they deserve. Names can be hard to remember as the weeks go by, so sometimes I write them in my clinical notebook as a reminder.

Be prepared for anything and everything

It is essential that you prepare for your clinical experience before entering the unit by studying and reviewing the theoretical and clinical knowledge needed for the day. You should know what kind of unit you will be working on and the common disease entities patients present with at admission. Your clinical instructor may provide your patient assignment the day before, so you can review the patient’s medical history, current conditions and related nursing care. Go over clinical skills you may be performing in the skills lab and be sure to look up related evidence-based practices.

Actively participate in pre- and post-conferences

Pre- and post-conferences will help you to reflect on what you have learned during the clinical experience. It will give you the opportunity to discuss with your clinical instructor what you have mastered and what you need more help with to gain a better understanding of nursing interventions and patient care. These conferences provide tremendous support as you grow professionally.

Show interest, eagerness, respect and appreciation in the clinical setting

Your enthusiasm to learn and your willingness to offer a helping hand as a student can make a difference to patients, families and staff. I remember encouraging an elderly woman as she worked with the physical therapist to improve her mobility. Your optimism and support can motivate patients to take that extra step in the recovery process.

Communicate with your preceptor

Take the initiative to convey your thoughts and opinions, in terms of patient care, with your preceptor. Or perhaps you can share with your preceptor whether you are more of an auditory or kinesthetic learner. Ask good questions and welcome constructive feedback. You will encounter preceptors who may not be as interactive or outgoing as you might like, but as we all know, we need to learn how to work with people who have their own personalities and ways of being.

Get involved in other unit activities or help staff members or classmates

The unit works as a team, and even as a student, you are a part of that team. You may be able to offer your help with other patients on the unit, even if they are not part of your assignment. Your classmate might need help with a bed bath, a call light may need to be answered or a nurse may need help with a patient’s vital signs. Your efforts will not go unnoticed, and all of these experiences will help in your professional development.

There is no such thing as downtime

There is always new knowledge and skills to build upon while on your clinical rotation, such as learning more about your patient’s health history, assessment, plan of care and educational needs as well as unit procedures, process of operating and leadership style.

Complete your day’s work

At the end of the clinical day, remember to report off to your preceptor, chart patient information and thank staff for their help and support. And don’t forget to say goodbye to the patients and family members you have taken care of that day.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

While your clinical rotation is ongoing, you will notice that certain skills are developing, while others need improvement. Set a goal each week to work on those areas that need improvement. Perhaps your preceptor or clinical instructor can assist you. I remember needing more help with ventilator care, so I asked my clinical instructor to help me in becoming more proficient. By taking the initiative, I improved my skills and showed my clinical instructor I was eager to learn.

Never do something if you are uncertain of your skills

Be sure to ask questions when you feel uncomfortable and review the steps for clinical skills and procedures prior to performing them. Nursing units usually have reference centers as a resource, and your clinical instructor is there to help you learn.


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