what are clinicals in nursing school

What are Clinicals in Nursing School? [Our Expert Guide on Clinicals]

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

Many nursing students have questions about their clinicals. They want to know: What are clinicals in nursing school? Why are clinicals important? What should you expect from clinicals? This aspect of nursing school often intimidates people who aren’t sure what to expect.

It’s easy to become worried about working in a clinical setting. You’ll be interacting with real patients, and you’ll need to draw on people skills that you can’t learn from books. But with a healthy understanding of what to expect and how to approach the work, the experience can be absolutely amazing.

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What Are Clinicals in Nursing School?

What are clinicals, and what are they used for?

While you are still studying in nursing school, you will have the opportunity to accrue clinical experience. No matter whether your area of study is being an RN or LPN, you will still need to participate in nursing clinicals. Most nursing schools streamline the process by combining lecture classes with clinical work. You will attend classes and get practical clinical experience in the same semester.

Many clinicals count as part of your grade. Before you can begin the process, you’ll need to pass certain tests. Different nursing schools have different policies regarding the requirements to start clinical trials. It’s common to need to pass a calculations and dosage test. You might also need to do a CCE exam, which is a test of your ability to perform nursing procedures. These tests are administered to make sure that you have achieved the correct competency level to work with patients.

The CCE exam will cover your basic hands-on competence. This includes multiple forms of medication administration, such as suppositories, enemas, and shots. You’ll need to demonstrate competency with a Foley catheter insertion, as well as changing wound dressings. Your instructor will watch your procedures and decide whether you’ve reached the right skill level to begin your clinical work. As you complete your clinicals and advance in level, you’ll be able to handle more complex nursing procedures.

There’s no one-size-fits-all setting for clinicals. Nursing students will work in nearly every nursing setting available. You will gain experience in nursing homes, clinics, hospitals, and psych wards. You’ll also explore various nursing fields, which is a great opportunity to branch out and try to find your true calling. Pay attention to the parts of the job that feel good, as these are the ones you’ll want to pursue in a professional environment.

A Typical Day in Clinicals

As mentioned, clinicals are done in every setting that requires nursing professionals. You’ll also be moved around various settings from time to time to allow you a wider range of experience. The frequency with which you’ll switch fields and settings will vary depending on your school and program details. You can expect to be cycled through a standard rotation of several professional settings.

The basic structure of clinicals remains the same regardless of your setting. A nurse at the organization will be assigned to you. You will have the chance to work with them, and they will assist you in learning and practicing nursing skills. Studying in the classroom is important, but the clinical setting is where you’ll get the important hands-on experience you’ll need.

Being a nurse is a demanding job. You need to have a great deal of knowledge, and you need to be passionate about helping your patients. Clinicals will teach you many aspects of nursing that you simply can’t learn from a book. Not only will you practice hands-on versions of the procedures you’ve been studying, but you’ll learn how to interact with patients and their families. Experienced nurses can help guide you through emotionally difficult and tough situations, so you’ll have an idea of how to handle them when you practice alone.

Being new to nursing can be intimidating, so feel free to read this inspirational story about the patron saint of nurses and call upon this special protector in times of need!

Will You Be Paid for Clinicals in Nursing School?

Unfortunately, the majority of clinicals are not paid work. You’re still a student, not a full nursing professional. The clinical experience is a huge portion of your studies. In the same way that an unpaid internship gives you experience for the future, clinicals give you vital knowledge to use later. That’s the knowledge that you’re paying nursing school tuition for.

Look at it this way. As a professional, fully certified nurse, you’ll know the ins and outs of your clinical setting. You’ll work independently, making snap judgments and doing procedures you’ve practiced a thousand times. In this scenario, the patient pays you for your expertise and the previous experience that led you there. But when you’re a student, you’re still learning. Everything you do is supervised. Instead of operating independently, you’re absorbing everything you can about the setting. When you’re learning instead of being truly certified and employed, it makes sense not to pay with money.

If you do want to get paid for your experience, though, you can find out if your local hospital or other health organization offers a nursing intern or extern program. These programs offer even more experience than you’ll find in your basic clinicals. Depending on the program specifications and the hospital you’re working at, the internship may cover the cost of your tuition.

4 Tips to Do Well in Clinicals in Nursing School

1. Keep a positive attitude.

A positive attitude is vital in any healthcare field, but particularly in nursing. You have a responsibility for your patients’ well-being. The clinicals won’t always be easy, and you may have days when you’re so tired you just want to sleep through your shift, but the attitude you project will spread to the people around you. You get to spend every day taking care of people. That’s why you’re becoming a nurse! Even if the information seems overwhelming or you make a mistake, just breathe and be patient. You’re absorbing more than you realize even when you aren’t actively studying. Have a few laughs and destress with these 37 hilarious nursing school memes

2. Document everything.

Everything? Yes. Everything. Patient wounds, treatment, and activity must be noted. You’ll need a log of patient procedures you’ve performed and seen performed. But your notes should go beyond this. Document the things that most people wouldn’t think to, but that are going to help you later.

Note the tone of voice your guiding nurse uses to calm an upset child, or the signs that a patient is seeking emotional reassurance, or good things to say when people are tired and in pain. All of it will matter when you’re on your own, so you should take down as much as you can. Make documentation easier with one of these nursing clipboards or keep track with one of these nursing planners.

3. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.

Never forget that your clinicals are a learning experience. Nobody expects you to know how to do everything on the first day. This is the time during which you get to practice and hone your skills. If you’re feeling lost, ask your guiding nurse for help. If you’re not sure of the steps for a procedure, or you think the situation is too complex for you to handle, it’s best to ask for advice. In a clinical setting, it’s better to ask questions than to make a mistake that affects the patient’s health. Don’t be anxious about it; that’s literally what the other nurse is there for.

4. Show up prepared for the day.

You should have some basic idea of what each day is going to bring. Make sure you’re always prepared with your basic tools and supplies and comfortable sneakers. The night before your clinical, you should get all your supplies packed into your bag like your clipboard and laptop, lay out your scrubs, and get at least eight hours of sleep. Solid sleep is critical to good patient care. On the morning of the clinical, you should eat breakfast, listen to a song that pumps you up, and do some deep breathing exercises. Arrive early enough to become familiar with the environment. And most importantly, relax! Feel organized and confident with one of these nursing totes


So, what are clinicals in nursing school?

Clinicals can seem intimidating, but they’re one of the best and most important parts of nursing school. By getting familiar with different environments and settings, you can learn what placement feels best for your future. You’ll also get hands-on experience and training that you can’t find in a classroom or a book. Your clinicals are an incredible opportunity for growth and adventure, as long as you do your best and keep a positive mindset.