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What Are Nursing School Clinicals?

Find out what two experts have to say about clinicals, one of the hardest and most rewarding parts of nursing school.

Nursing school goes far beyond the classroom. Sure, you’ll spend plenty of time listening to lectures and reading up on anatomy, but eventually you’re going to have to put your knowledge to use. Clinicals get you out into the world where you can do that. They’re known for being challenging, but clinicals offer students valuable instruction they can only get in the field.

We talked with two experts to get the inside scoop on the most intense part of nursing school. Katrina Little is Ameritech’s Interim Clinical Relations Manager of Students, and Joshua Ray is Ameritech’s Interim Clinical Site Relations Manager.

Related resource: How to Succeed in Nursing School

What are clinicals?

“Clinicals are the application of the skills that [nursing students have] learned in lab settings and classroom dynamics,” says Ray. “They’re taking that theory of knowledge and information and applying it. Usually they don’t have any healthcare experiences. This is their first real introduction to what nursing is really going to be like, and to what the environment is really like.”

Nursing students at Ameritech spend their first semester in the classroom, but once their second semester starts, they spend at least one day a week in an actual nursing environment. It starts easy, but by their fifth and final semester they’ll essentially be working as nurses.

Learning what it’s really like means students are shadowing working nurses. “They’re basically working with the nurse and doing exactly what the nurse would do.” says Little.  “They work on the patient load with the nurse. Most of the time, they’re doing things like assessments and passing medications.”

However, Little notes that students’ tasks quickly go beyond assisting. “The nurse lets [students] use the skills that they would use, and they’re able to work with the nurse and complete patient care.”

Clinicals end with a semester of students working mostly independently. This part of clinicals is known as the capstone. “It’s more of an independent role to transition them into getting their RN,” says Little. “Basically, they take over the nurse’s workload as if they were the nurse.”

Related resource: What Is Working in Hospital Really Like?

How are students evaluated during clinicals?

“We have an evaluation form,” says Little. “At the beginning of the shift, students need to make some goals. They put down goals for what they want to accomplish during that shift. At the end of the shift, there is an evaluation that is completed by the nurse.

“It asks questions like, ‘What’s the student’s knowledge?’ and ‘What’s their professionalism?’ It asks if the student was safe. What was their communication like? Are the students using their critical thinking skills? What’s their attitude? Is the student showing caring towards the patient? The nurse will evaluate them on that and give them a score.”

At the end of clinicals, students are evaluated on the way they provided care, managed care, and how they acted as a member of the profession. Little also adds that the evaluation is not one-sided. “Our students get to evaluate the nurse they’re working with,” she says. “What’s the knowledge of the preceptor? How was their attitude? What was their skill level in their teaching?”

Related resource: What to Expect in Your First Year as a Nurse

The importance of clinicals

Clinicals are difficult. Ray compares them to military training or boot camp and is clear that it can be the hardest thing most students have undertaken up to that point. But in that difficulty, he says students can forge strong bonds. “They develop long-lasting friendships that will carry them throughout their entire nursing career,” he says. “I graduated from Ameritech’s nursing program 10 years ago, and I still routinely run into my cohorts.”

Ray also emphasizes the high quality of Ameritech’s clinicals. “Our commitment toward education is quite high and well-respected throughout the clinical arena,” he says. “Our educational institution as a whole is regarded as one of the better ones, and clinical partners are very impressed with our students.”

Good performances in clinicals don’t just lead to esteem and respect, though. Little adds that clinical experiences can often turn into solid career starts. “We just had three students that did ER,” she says. “They just got hired in the ER as new grads, because they did their capstone in that area. They’re excited!”


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What Are Nursing School Clinicals?