Nursing | How to make every clinical placement a success

For Year 1 student nurses, the clinical practice placement must be the most discussed topic. People are feeling excited and anxious in equal measure. Whether you have been in a practice environment before or not, you will never really know what to expect – make no mistakes there!

Although no placement is equal to another, our attitude can shape how we see the experience and others see us. In other words, the way we approach things can be a maker or breaker. This is as valid in clinical practice as it is in life. The clinical placement is entirely what we students make of it.

As the end of my second placement of year 1 approaches, I have put together my best tips and advice for every stage of it to help you enjoy a successful clinical placement.

The placement allocation

Details generally are sent two weeks before your starting date. However, that is not set in stone. Eventually, you will get it. Don’t Panic! Delays can happen.

When you get the email, before anything else, you want to find out some information about the area of practice you will be working on. If it’s a hospital ward, learn about its speciality or if it is a GP practice, learn about the clinics and services they offer.

Contact your practice assessor and supervisor (do you have their details?). A simple email will do just fine. Find out what day and time you should be there. It is always worth asking about uniforms and dress codes. What do I mean by that? Most of the time, you have to wear your uniform so ask if you can change there. However, some have a no uniforms policy. For instance, if your area is Mental Health or in other community placements, ask about their dress code. That might prevent you from a very awkward situation on your first day should they forget to tell you and you don’t ask. Think about being invited to a party where you are the only one turning up in a funny dress.

Make sure you have the correct address and know how to get there. Look at google maps, and print out directions if needed.

Top tip: Your placement might have branches in different locations. The address that the practice team at university gives you might be where the admin office is located or the head office address, but not necessarily where you will be training. So, check, double-check and triple-check!

Spend some time preparing

How will you get to the placement? Are you travelling by car/bus or train? If you are driving, is there any parking, and do you have to pay for it? Ensure you know how to get there safely when on a night shift.

Is there any pre-reading or preparation you could do? Have a look at the logbook (e-PAD) and understand what is expected of you. Refresh essential procedures and protocols ahead. Use online resources such as Clinical Skills and E-learning for Health.

In preparation for my placement in a Stroke unit, I used online learning tools such as STARS and ELFH, which introduced me to Stroke Core Competencies, including causes and risk factors, expected effects of stroke, and emotional and psychological impact and rehabilitation.

Google the department/staff – what services do they offer? Look at their website if there is one available.

Take a small notebook and pen with you, especially for writing down procedures /names. This is particularly vital during the first few weeks.

Also, bring your identity card or your university ID badge.

Save the contact details of your personal and/or academic tutor and link lecturer. You may want to reach them if you experience any complications.

Review your Assessment of Practice (AoP) for your induction.

On Day One

Arrive early and get into the morning meeting/handover 5, or even better 10 minutes early. Introduce yourself to your practice assessor and the ward sister, say what year you are in, and if you are shy or nervous, tell them! First impressions stick in people’s minds.

Top tip: Keep smiling (even if you are wearing a mask). Tell them what you want to learn and show enthusiasm. Be willing and remember that you are there to learn and not know it all.

Interact with other clinical staff

Ask questions. Be prepared to feel unsure of what to do in your first week. You don’t wake up knowing how to nurse correctly. You will get used to it.

Focus on your strengths and be prepared to face your limitations.

Discuss whether you can organise visits and work/shadow different professionals from the interdisciplinary team.

Be proactive and be helpful

Get to know the environment. Make use of your time and offer your help to anyone. Don’t sit and wait as you could end up waiting a long time and apart from getting bored, you will learn nothing.

Anything and anyone around you is a learning opportunity; ask first to observe and then try to do it with their supervision. One of the things that you will experience quite soon is everyone running around to deal with an emergency, helping patients, answering questions, leaving the phone ringing with no one available to answer it. When that happens, pick up that phone! You might want to say: ”(Whatever it is called) ward, how can I help?” Yes, you can do it. I would probably have laughed if anyone told me how much I would learn just answering the phone.

Top tip: There will be busy times, and you will find it difficult to interact with mentors/staff. Disappearing, getting out of the way or standing immobile is not the way to react. Instead, work out what you could do and be helpful.

“Give and Take nothing for granted!”

Learn from others

Talk, watch and learn from the Health Care Support Workers. Some have many years of experience, and they know the place inside out.

Develop supportive relationships at work/placement. Start with the ward clerk. They are usually welcoming, knowledgeable, and supportive. They are life saviours should you make a little mess up (trust me!).

Spend time talking to patients. You may find something new that nobody else knows; it may improve their care and experience. Even though we all know this, it is always worth reminding ourselves: be kind, show respect to others and maintain dignity.

Take regular breaks

It is natural to feel overwhelmed by all that happens around you.

Start by taking a break. Talking to people, friends, course mates, and tutors. Bottling up your emotions can lead to physical stress, not making things better.

The first week may be slow/difficult. Take a step back, observe and reflect; find your feet.

Super tip: Be patient! And have fun!


Antonio Baldascini

BSc Adult Nursing

University of Roehampton (Croydon campus)

The University of Roehampton changes lives by helping our students to develop the confidence, knowledge and values they need for a successful and fulfilling life. We produce world-class research that helps us understand the world and change it for the better.

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