Health Care

Ace your clinical placement with this nursing guide

It is natural to feel stressed when you are starting your first clinical placement, especially if you have heard negative stories from other students. Your life as a student has always been lecture-oriented, so getting out in the field can be daunting. However, clinical placement is one of the most exciting parts of the journey of a nurse training course and enables you to practice the knowledge you have gained in the classroom.

The best approach is to take this opportunity to complement theory with experience. This guide will walk you through the responsibilities associated with clinical placements. You’ll learn about what to expect and find tips to prepare yourself for professional development.

Introduction to clinical placements

Every medical degree program has organized blocks of time for students to visit social or healthcare settings or institutes. These educational visits are called clinical placements. Nursing students can acquire hands-on experience in a multitude of settings and specialties with the help of clinical placements. They are also a good chance to speak with patients with different conditions. Clinical placements are planned to help you with the skills, knowledge, and attitude students will need as freshly qualified medical professionals.

Types of clinical work placements and what to expect

Community, primary, secondary, or other social and healthcare spaces are common examples of settings where clinical work placements are conducted. Some will also include remote consultations. Medical schools sometimes cover the expenses, such as travel costs, for attending placements that are far away.

Clinical placements are not restricted to the working areas of doctors. Third-sector and community settings, district and tertiary general hospitals are all great settings for gaining work experience. You can develop different perspectives from working in rural and urban locations.

You will gain a wide variety of experiences through placements. Here is a look at what you can expect in different types of clinical placements.

Hospital placements

  • During hospital placements, nursing students go from ward to ward, interacting with all types of patients.
  • They perform examinations and take patient histories.
  • They observe patients from the time they are admitted until their date of discharge. This helps them gain a better understanding of the person’s journey.
  • You may be asked to supervise the ward rounds to refine your leadership skills.
  • You will have to perform several clinical procedures that fall under your level of competence and expertise.
  • During hospital placements, students are often asked to map out management plans for the patients they are monitoring.
  • They learn how to efficiently document patient records and find out more about medical conditions by attending specialist clinics.
  • Organized and timely bedside teaching will enhance your learning process more than you realize.
  • Follow the multidisciplinary team members, such as physician assistants, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants, pharmacists, and other nurses.
  • You may have to stay back even after your specified work hours for clinical activities are over. These out-of-hour shifts may give you the opportunity to develop new skills.

General practice placements

  • In general practice placements, you may be asked to attend practice meetings to refine your medical skills.
  • Other than practice meetings, medical students are called to participate in quality advancement projects, peer teaching and clinical audits.
  • You will be covering referrals to secondary care.
  • Video consultations, telephone, and one-on-one interactions in general practice placements will help you gain practical experience.
  • You will be monitoring patients with multimorbidity or long-term conditions.
  • In special cases, your supervisors can ask you to administer your own clinic as well.


  • Medical institutes arrange student apprenticeships for students planning to work as foundation doctors. Through this assistantship, you will get a taste of the reality of operating as a specialty and associate specialist in clinical environments.

Tips to prepare for work placements in medicine

In the American healthcare system, the profession of nursing holds a unique place. As members of the largest healthcare profession, the nation’s 3.1 million nurses work in diverse settings and fields and are frontline providers of healthcare services.

It is a common misconception that nurses only tend to hospitalized patients. Nurses who work independently provide a myriad of services. One such healthcare service is home care nursing. When taking care of senior citizens, home medical services are highly encouraged. School nurses, on the other hand, look after students from kindergarten to high school. Industries and businesses also employ nurses for work-related health concerns.

If you have completed your bachelor’s degree in another field and are contemplating switching your career to nursing, you can do that within 20 months while still working in your current job. The accelerated Master’s program for non nurses at Elmhurst University is geared toward second-career experts looking to enroll in a fast-paced curriculum for a swift career change. It is designed specifically for students with bachelor’s degrees in other fields who want to enter the profession of nursing.

Here are some tips that will help you prepare for clinical work placements.

Know what to expect, and stay strong

Don’t leave your preparations for your first day of clinical placement. Clinicals may appear daunting to new nursing students, but showing genuine enthusiasm for your work and a positive can-do attitude will help you get the most out of your work placement. When you are willing to learn, you can see things that surpass your daily tasks. Think of it as getting used to a new language and culture. Engage in conversations with staff and patients. Nursing students usually attend their clinical studies during their first or second semester.

Trust in your capabilities

Clinicals have their ups and downs, like any other exercise. Having faith in your capabilities will not only help your placement experience, but it will also help you develop confidence throughout your career in medicine. Once you grow your expertise from these rewarding experiences, you can better endure healthcare challenges and provide top-notch care to patients.

Remember to take notes

One of the most essential facets of your learning experience is note-taking. Every student has a unique process of note-taking that helps them manage the information they are gathering from lectures. To develop your skills in this arena, research some general strategies to record and retain lessons. Finding a method of note-taking that works for you should be your first step. While some people work better on electronic devices, others are more efficient with pen and paper.

This may sound old-fashioned, but carrying a small notebook with you during your clinical lab placement can be very useful. Jotting notes down is an easy way to recall something you may need for later use or an entirely new concept that you may be learning during the placement. For example, you can make a quick note of the reference ranges of blood gas so that you can double-check them when necessary.

In the course of your placement, you will encounter several unique situations. Noting down the process for dealing such situations will help you in the future when you come across something similar. For example, if you notice beaded gram-positive bacilli in a sputum gram stain, the technician may add buffered charcoal yeast extract plates and modify Thayer Martin. If the organism proves to be Nocardia sp., this will save you precious time later on in the workup. If you are hired by the site of your clinical placement, these notes will come in handy during training.

Get acquainted with the employees of the hospital

A career in medicine is all about people and their stories and health. The patients are the primary focus, but your future colleagues are equally vital. Get to know management, the heads of the departments, your new co-workers, and your mentor. You might have read articles related to their specialty online, or maybe you just learned about their recent contributions. It is always a major plus to prove your sincere interest. Before you arrive at the hospital, visit its website to learn as much as possible about the staff. Browse through the profiles of healthcare professionals and find out all you can about your work mentor.

Familiarize yourself with the structure of the hospital

Avoid getting lost on your first day by keeping a downloaded copy of the hospital map on your phone in case of confusion. Be aware of the location of every department. Without a sense of direction, you can easily miss out on crucial performances.

Talk like a professional

  • Medical terms: Whether you have been pursuing nursing since you graduated from high school or are changing from a career in another field to nursing, you need to understand what your colleagues and mentors are talking about when they are reviewing a case. Learning about medical terminology will help you participate more often. During your clinical placement, you may be asked to describe illnesses and human anatomy or use medical terms such as “artificial pacemaker” or “angina pectoris”.
  • Acronyms: Read up on relevant abbreviations before your placement starts. During your placement, your mentor will expect you to be familiar with basic healthcare vocabulary. For example, ECG stands for electrocardiography and NICU stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
  • Slang expressions: On your first day at the work placement, you will not be acquainted with the hospital team. It is unprofessional to use slang expressions that may be considered offensive, even if you observe staff using some of these terms.

Read up on the department 

A hospital website has multiple functions. Not only will it provide you with the structure of the hospital, but it can also tell you which staff members you will encounter on a normal day, how many patients with severe injuries have been admitted, and other useful data. Use the internet as a source to stay on top of medical news. You may come across some reputable social media channels that can keep you updated.

Have a well-grounded domain knowledge about the specialty

When you are attending your clinical work placement as a student, you want to give the impression to the nurse or doctor who mentors you that you are eager to learn. This means you must have well-founded knowledge about patient approaches, treatments, procedures, and department specialties. It would be very difficult to properly understand the job without a solid foundation. Go through your study materials before you begin your hospital placement and jot down all the questions you have at home.

Responsibilities of clinical students

When you reach the clinical site, you will be expected to complete various tasks. These may include:

  • Follow your supervisor’s instructions and take a complete patient health history.
  • Carry out focused examinations for specific complaints and take a pertinent, concise history.
  • Determine normal from abnormal by performing a full physical examination. You may need to include a pelvic examination in some cases.
  • Make proper judgments about the management and diagnosis of general health issues.
  • Use problem-oriented formats and relevant terminologies to document and present physical and historical findings in a rational, to-the-point, and accurate manner.
  • Secure timely consultations, as instructed.
  • Order elementary lab tests when necessary, and transcribe the findings.
  • Advise on pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments.


Before a clinical placement begins, students should recognize the learning results of the placement. Ask for an introduction so you can gain some insight into the department or service area of your clinical placement. Make sure that you have received information on how to approach support networks such as well-being services and how to raise quality or safety concerns.

You will be introduced to your team before the placement begins, and they will show you around and explain how to access the wards, rest areas, changing facilities and IT systems. Although your clinical placement may be challenging at times, there will always be plenty of support.

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