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Everything you need to know about clinical work placements when studying to be a nurse

One of the things that can put people off re-training as a nurse is the thought that they might have to spend years studying for the relevant qualifications.

But nothing could be further from the truth, with many online and remote learning courses now ‘accelerated’ to ensure you can qualify as a registered nurse (RN) in a shorter timeframe – often as short as one year.

These courses blend a mix of theoretical learning with hands-on, clinical work placements, which are an essential component of taking all of the things you have learned from tutors and textbooks and putting them into practice in a real, working healthcare environment.

That can sound daunting, but for nursing students with a desire to help others and improve their lives, it’s a fantastic way to pick up the work experience that looks so good on your resume.

If you want to learn more about clinical work placements, we’ll discuss everything you need to know below.

What is a clinical work placement?

A clinical work placement is a period of ‘employment’ in a healthcare practice, be it a hospital, doctor’s surgery or other type of environment.

You will typically be assigned a mentor and handed an opportunity to see how RNs work on a daily basis.

You will also be given the chance to put your learning into practice, undertaking selected medical procedures under the supervision of your mentor.

Finding an appropriate clinical work placement in a setting that is local to your place of residence can be a stressful undertaking, which is why it’s recommended that you enroll in an accelerated nursing program online at a reputable provider such as Baylor University. The educational institution will help you to find the right ‘preceptor’ – which is the catch-all term used to describe a clinical placement site – that is relevant to your end goals and also as close as possible to home.

Whether you want to eventually go into general nursing as a career or a more specialized form, your clinical work placement should be selected to reflect your aims and ambitions. That way, you are adding depth to your resume before you start your job search upon graduation.

Why are clinical work placements important?

The importance of clinical work placements, especially for prospective RNs, cannot be underplayed.

You will build a portfolio of clinical hours, developing your practical skills while learning from an experienced nursing team and gaining an understanding of the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of the profession.

This bridges the gap between your theoretical learning and practical experience, and your placement will provide you with the foundation upon which you will build when securing your first permanent role in nursing.

During their placements, many student nurses find the feedback given by their mentor to be invaluable in their development. Being able to practice nursing in a real-world setting – while being supervised by a professional – helps to lessen the anxiety and nervousness during those first days and weeks in nursing.

It’s also worth remembering that your preceptor could, ultimately, offer you a job at the end of your placement. Now, this is by no means a hard and fast rule, and you should not expect your placement provider to offer you a route into full-time nursing.

However, it’s a pathway that other student nurses have taken, so it’s certainly something to consider as you embark upon your clinical placement. At the very least, you can hope to secure a reference or even a letter of recommendation from your placement leader.

What will I do on a clinical work placement?

The day-to-day routine of a clinical work placement for nurses is as unpredictable and varied as any given day in the healthcare sector!

Your main duty off the bat is to shadow the practicing nurses on their daily rounds, learning about the different situations that may arise and how to deal with them effectively. There’s a likelihood, depending upon your preceptor, that you will provide medical care to patients at all stages of life – from babies to the elderly and everyone in-between, picking up the skills and cues in how to manage each age-group effectively.

You will also sit in as your mentor and other senior nurses provide emotional and holistic support services to patients and their families – a vital part of the job.

You will see first-hand how the process of admissions and discharges is undertaken and how nurses are vital in maintaining administrative requirements alongside their more medical duties.

The need for robust hygiene and sanitation has never been more important in the post-pandemic world, and so you will also experience first-hand how medical facilities are maintaining infection control measures – be it anything from hand hygiene and manual handling to the use of appropriate clothing and equipment.

You may be allowed to sit in on clinical presentations, furthering your knowledge and participating in discussions, all of which helps to improve your practice even further.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the nature of nursing is such that no two days are the same, so don’t expect your clinical work placement to be routine as a result!

Tackling the nursing shortage

The lack of registered nurses and trained medical professional across the US is a cause for real concern.

It’s estimated that as many as one million RNs will have retired by 2030, and yet demand for nurses will increase by as much as 12% in that timeframe to help treat the growing and aging population.

If you have a burning desire to enter the nursing profession, now really is as good a time as any. Not only is there a shortfall of workers – which helps to boost your own employment prospects – but there’s also an innate demand for caring, hard-working individuals to help improve the lives of those in need.

You can accelerate your way through accredited nursing degrees in as little as one year, and so the imagined obstacles that puts many off trying to become a registered nurse can be kicked to the curb.

Atticus Bennett: Atticus, a sports nutritionist, provides dietary advice for athletes, tips for muscle recovery, and nutrition plans to support peak performance.