Nursing school involves both theoretical and practical learning. You have to know how to care for patients in a variety of contexts before you can earn your license and work as a registered nurse. Your nursing school clinical rotations will be an important tool in putting your knowledge to the test and learning practical applications.
Most nursing students are excited to start their first clinical rotations, but the experience can also be a little scary. When you’ve never worked in a clinical setting before, it can be very intimidating to work with real patients.
Not sure what to expect? Here’s what you need to know before your first clinical assignment.
What are nursing school clinicals and how do they work?
Nursing school clinicals bring students out of the classroom and into a healthcare setting so they can work with actual patients. These rotations are designed so that students can apply what they have learned in the classroom.
In addition to creating a controlled learning environment for practicing skills and asking questions, nursing students can get a feel for clinical work and identify any gaps they may need to work on. Students will have the guidance of a designated, experienced nurse (sometimes known as a preceptor) to provide support when they need it and to help ensure high-quality patient care.
Practicing in clinical settings allows nurses to gain skills and confidence while they still have access to a dedicated mentor. It is also important for evaluating a nursing student’s readiness for unsupervised work in a clinical setting.
Steps to prepare for your clinicals
Once you’ve got your clinical rotation set up, you should take some time to prepare so you’re not scrambling to get ready on your first morning. Get a good night’s sleep so you can think clearly and arrive with a positive attitude.
Get all of your supplies together the night before. Prepare a healthy snack or lunch in advance so you don’t get too hungry during your shift. Also, make sure to eat breakfast in the morning—you want to be fueled for the day ahead. It’s a good idea to write down any key information before your first rotation, such as what you should know about a patient before providing care. Plan to arrive early so you’re not worrying about being late!
What do I need to be successful?
You’ll need some basic supplies for your clinicals. Your school should tell you what kinds of scrubs you’ll need. It’s important to wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be on your feet all day, and consider compression socks to prevent blood clots and other issues.
There are various medical supplies you’ll need as a nurse, including a high-quality stethoscope and possibly a blood pressure cuff. You should also bring small items like scissors, hemostats, and a small flashlight.
You will also want to have a watch with a second hand, a small notebook and pen, a clipboard, a calculator, and a clip or holder for your ID badge. You might also want to bring in reference materials in case you need them. Don’t forget your water bottle to stay hydrated!
During your nursing school clinicals, the most important thing you can bring to the table is a good attitude. You will make mistakes, but try to look at them as learning experiences and maintain a positive, helpful attitude. Don’t forget to ask questions!
What will my daily routine be like?
Your routine will evolve as you go through your clinical experience. On your first day, some of the pressure will be off as you’re likely to start by doing more observation than direct patient care. Absorb as much as you can and be as helpful as possible.
Once you’ve gained some experience and confidence, you’ll be assigned patients to care for. Your daily routine will depend on your patients’ needs and the requirements of the facility. Remember, each clinical setting is a little bit different, so expect that you’ll need a little time to get used to the routine.
What will I learn?
Initially, you’ll learn by watching an experienced nurse. It isn’t in patients’ best interests to be cared for by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing! However, you will get hands-on experience during your clinicals and you will learn from both observation and direct practice.
You will learn how to gather information on a patient, take vital signs, and provide miscellaneous care tasks, including giving medication and helping with general hygiene and comfort tasks. You will typically get a chance to work in several different clinical rotations to learn how a nurse functions in each department.
You will also learn about proper patient interactions. A big part of nursing is connecting with patients and helping to keep them calm so they can heal. You will get a chance to practice your bedside manner with patients and their families during your clinicals. Be a sponge during your clinical rotation. This is your chance to see what a nurse’s daily rounds look like. Ask questions and take in all that you can.
How will I be graded and evaluated?
The good news about clinical rotations is that you will have a lot of prior knowledge to draw on from your coursework and studying should be minimal. Generally, you will be evaluated and graded on criteria such as attendance, preparedness, and participation. You may also have some homework, but it is likely to relate to the work you’re doing, such as creating care plans.
If you go into your rotation with a positive, receptive attitude, you should do just fine. Be on time, do your homework, and make sure you’re as prepared as possible for each day. If you do that, you should have no trouble passing your clinicals.
What happens next?
Clinical rotations are a core part of your nursing education. You will get the opportunity to spend many hours observing patient care and providing it yourself. Once you’ve satisfied the requirements for clinical hours and passed your classes, you can graduate.
Then, you will need to take the licensure exam so you can become an RN. There are many steps to becoming a nurse because safe patient care requires in-depth knowledge and practice. Take advantage of your clinicals to prepare you for your licensure exams and your first job as a registered nurse!
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses need a specific skill set to perform their duties well in emergency healthcare. Becoming familiar with the skills necessary is incredibly important when either deciding about pursuing ICU nursing as a career, studying to become one, or already serving in an ICU nurse position.
What Are the 8 Necessary Skills for ICU Nurses?
Nurses serve a few vital purposes within the healthcare setting. They must possess a unique blend of personal “soft skills,” such as compassion and relatability, alongside professional industry knowledge. They need to be able to support medical colleagues in enacting treatment plans as well as interface skillfully with a variety of patient types and needs. The following list includes critical knowhow any ICU nurse needs when serving in the field.
Skill one: A strong base of critical care and life support skills. Triaging patients and knowing the urgency of a patient’s needs at any given time is vital for nurses that work in ICU settings. A healthcare standard that distinguishes four levels of carebased on urgency or situation severity ranges from patient needs that can easily be met in standard healthcare facilities to, at the highest level of urgency, patients that are experiencing respiratory failure or failure within at least two organ systems. ICU nurses must be adept at recognizing a patient’s status and responding appropriately with the correct level of care to stem any possibility that the situation might worsen and instead help those patients move towards increasing levels of stability.
Skill two: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Knowing how to administer CPR and how to recognize when it is necessary is another critical skill for ICU nurses. Because the ICU treats a large percentage of severe or life-threatening conditions, the likelihood of a patient needing CPR is high at any given time. ICU nurses must be able to perform this intervention without mistake or delay.
Skill three: Handling stressful medical emergencies. The ICU is often a high-stress environment. Not all personalities naturally lend themselves to remaining calm and collected in pressured situations. Because the activity in the ICU often involves life and death scenarios and lots of people in high need or stressful states at any given time, it is very important that ICU nurses are able to remain emotionally steady no matter what the circumstances. This is vital for both patients, those patients’ family members and friends, and other staff.
Skill four: A high level of cultural competency. Medical professionals come into contact with people across a wide range of demographics. Many of these include people of different races, cultures, and ethnicities. Cultural competence in nursingrefers to the ability to provide patients with quality medical care while demonstrating astute awareness of their unique cultural values and identity. Cultural identities often include or imply certain beliefs. Nurses that perform this skill well can anticipate how these belief systems may influence that patient’s attitudes, decisions, and behaviors. Culturally competent nurses can also discuss those beliefs with empathy and interest, whether or not they adhere to them personally.
Skill five: Performing a range of diagnostic tests. ICU nurses are often responsible for gathering preliminary data about a patient’s condition, and in many cases quickly, so that the doctors that provide treatment have as strong an understanding as possible about what may be going on. Therefore, ICU nurses need strong knowledge and proficiency in performing diagnostics and testing.
Skill six: Telemetry. Telemetry refers to the process of utilizing a portable device to monitor patient vitals, particularly their heart activity, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation. Telemetry devices allow a patient to be monitored continuously over a period of time without needing to be restricted by attachment to a bedside cardiac monitor. ICU nurses are often the personnel that attach and manage a patient’s telemetry device. This tool, and the metrics it provides, is vital to making sure a patient’s condition does not worsen (and detecting it immediately if it does).
Skill seven: Administering sedation. This is another technical skill ICU nurses must possess to effectively fulfill their duties. Administering sedation can often become necessary in high-stress situations, and often needs to be performed quickly and accurately to deescalate the scene. ICU nurses are usually the personnel responsible for performing this function.
Skill eight: Quick, adaptable, and calm decision making. ICU nurses are often called upon to make informed decisions about a patient’s care. This can occur in high-intensity situations in which the life of the patient may be at stake and acute care is immediately necessary. ICU nurses must be skilled at making clear-headed decisions and effectively gathering the information they need to make sure they can act in the best manner possible.
How to Develop Your Skills & Continue Advancing Your Education in the Field of Nursing
If you are pursuing, or interested in pursuing, a career in nursing, do your homework. The field is wide and full of options that suit a range of personality types and natural competencies. An important part of determining where in the field of nursing you would most naturally fit and thrive is to understand what’s expected of various nursing roles. ICU nursing may be where you naturally gravitate. And if not, there are plenty of other options or ways to shift your career’s focus to other types of nursing as you go.
Once you’ve determined the nursing career type that would make a probable fit for your needs and aptitudes, spend time researching the best strategy for entering that particular nursing role. There are many ways to enter the field of nursing. Some areas within nursing require more schooling than others or may be benefited by one entrance route over another. Take the time to learn what educational pathway would benefit you most. This will help you ensure that your nursing career is long-lasting and fulfilling.
Becoming a nurse is no easy task, and for good reason. When you have a person’s health and well-being in your hands every day, you have to be highly trained, compassionate, and dedicated.
However, understanding the steps required to become a nurse can be a little bit confusing. There are several different nursing degrees to consider, plus licensure for the state. Nursing degrees and nursing licenses are not the same thing—and you need both to legally work as a nurse in the United States.
Nursing Degrees Vs. Licenses
Essentially, a nursing degree is a prerequisite for licensure. Before being allowed to take the licensure exams, a nurse must demonstrate that they have successfully completed an accredited nursing program and earned a degree.
Earning a degree means a nursing student has learned all of the skills needed to work as a nurse and pass their school exams. A high-quality education is essential for every nurse actively working in the healthcare industry.
Once a degree has been earned, however, there is one more hurdle: passing the all-important exams. These exams are challenging for a reason—they must evaluate whether or not a nursing student is ready to work with real patients. Licensure is necessary for getting a job and legally working as a nurse.
Types of Nursing Licenses and Types of Nursing Degrees
Degree programs for nurses can range from associate’s degrees to master’s degrees. Generally, the more education a nurse gets, the more the potential responsibility and pay increases.
There are also different types of nursing licenses, and each one defines the limitations of what tasks a nurse will be permitted to perform in a clinical setting. The most common license type is RN (Registered Nurse). Nurses with this licensure can perform many different patient care tasks and are indispensable in a hospital setting. Passing the NCLEX exam is required to become an RN.
Lower-level licensures include LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). These healthcare professionals must work under the supervision of an RN and are more limited in the tasks they can perform. However, the education requirements for taking these licensure exams are lower than for those seeking the RN licensure.
Autonomy and pay are two major considerations for those interested in getting a nursing degree. With an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, students can sit for the RN licensure exam. Advanced nursing degrees can lead to much more autonomy and greater pay. Some nurses go on to earn a master’s degree, become nurse practitioners, or even earn a Ph.D. in nursing.
Which Degree and License Type Is Right for You?
There are pros and cons to every degree and license type for nurses. Before you choose a nursing degree program, you need to think about what you envision for your career.
Are you hoping to finish your degree quickly and work part-time to earn supplemental income? If so, you may want to work toward an LPN or CNA license. If you want to work full-time as a nurse, however, an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing is the standard path to becoming an RN.
If you want to take your career even further, you may want to consider an advanced degree. There is a need for nursing educators, nurse leaders, and nurse practitioners in the United States. Earning an advanced nursing degree could open up lots of doors and allow you to earn more money throughout your career.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. You need to understand the commitment of time and money each option requires and choose based on your specific situation. While different options will give you different opportunities, the demand for nurses is strong and most people who earn their degree and licensure have no trouble finding a job.
Working toward a nursing license is a big commitment. But if you follow through, it can provide you with a fulfilling and interesting career path you can continue with successfully for many, many years.
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