What to Expect on Your First Day of Clinical
Your first clinical experience as a nursing student is very daunting—you’ve never been in a ‘nurse’ role, even if you are a CNA or already work in the hospital. For many students, they’ve never stepped foot in a hospital, period!
This is a really overwhelming aspect of nursing school. I was so anxious and scared for my first clinical rotation, mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that most of nursing students’ first clinical was basically CNA work—taking vitals, giving bed baths, answering call lights, etc, just to ease you into the setting. I was dreading this, because I already do this at work and get paid for it.
I had also heard that your clinical instructor basically sets you free and lets you take care of the patients on your own, and this really freaked me out because I felt so unprepared.
I tried YouTubing other nursing students’ experiences with clinical but each video was completely different and I just felt so overwhelmed. Especially as the over-planner that I am, I felt so uneasy about not knowing what to expect, where my site was going to be, and who my group was.
So I’ve written this blog post to share my experience with my first nursing clinical at EKU. Of course, each clinical rotation is going to vary, depending on your site, instructor, and level of care. Different schools also have different protocols and policies (my friend’s school had their first clinical at a nursing home), so that has an effect as well.
I share this with a hope that the future nursing students with enter clinical with fewer anxieties and more confidence because you have a general idea of what’s going to happen.
I’ve divided the beginning of clinical into two separate sections, because the first official day of clinical doesn’t quite feel like a clinical experience—it’s more like a job orientation. Then, the second week is more like the first actual clinical day.
Day 1: Orientation Day
Orientation Day is your first physical day at your clinical site. You most likely won’t be providing any care, but it’s still required that you wear uniform in the building. This day feels so long and boring, because it’s mostly going over the hospital policies. We made our computer accounts and also got a tour of the hospital. This day was basically “Welcome to the Hospital, here’s rules, usernames and passwords to everything.”
The hospital policies vary, but one policy that is pretty common to all facilities is that you aren’t allowed to take printed hospital/patient information out of the building. This includes the patient summary sheet that you receive as your daily assignment, as well as any other papers you may have printed. Some facilities allow you to copy this information onto another sheet by hand as long as you don’t include identifying information, but just follow your policy! This is a big deal, so remember this when you get your patient assignment the next week.
You’ll need a computer username and password so you can log on and view the patients’ records that are currently on your unit. This username and password is also connected to a badge, which you can just ‘click’ to the computer and log in easily. This allows you to view all the patients on your unit as well as view records and important information. The information found on the computer is very important for filling out your clinical packets, so take advantage of the technology! You’ll set this up on the first day.
If you’ve never been in a medical facility before, you’ll find that all the doors are locked and you need a code to unlock it. They’re usually 3-4 numbers long, which isn’t much, but becomes really overwhelming when there’s 10 different doors you need in. I suggest writing these codes down on a Post-It and taping it inside your binder! That way, you always have them with you, but aren’t highly visible.
Lastly, we got a tour of our unit. We met the nurses that work on our clinical day as well as met a few patients. We didn’t provide any care, but our instructor let us observe her do a basic assessment. This was helpful just because I wasn’t for sure how exactly to interact with patients—it’s harder than you think!
Before you leave this day, make sure you are well aware of your instructor’s expectations for your learning as well as any homework. If you are clear of what they are looking for, this makes it easier on you and them!
In a nutshell, Orientation Day just gave me a headache.
Week 2: The Real Deal
So the second time you meet as a clinical group, it’s considered your first ‘real’ clinical day. You arrive at 6:30am and get your assignment from your instructor. At the beginning of the semester, it was usually two students to one nurse. I loved this because we were partnered up with our friends/acquaintances, so it wasn’t as scary!
Towards the beginning, we just shadowed our nurse as she administered medication and did assessments. It was really boring because we just stood there and watched, then moved on to the next patient and did the same thing. However, most patients are on Heparin or Levanox, so be prepared to give several sub-q injections! This was really the only skill we got to practice in the beginning.
After the nurse finished her round, we were free to either do our packets with the computer or go and practice head-to-toe assessments on our patient. I always did the computer work first, because the only time you’re able to access that information is at the hospital, your assigned clinical day. If I had extra time, I would then go and do my assessment. Also, don’t worry if your assessment isn’t perfect or even a full head-to-toe! Just having a little practice with real patients is more than enough experience for your first clinical!
Once everyone was finished with their assigned patient (usually around 11am or noon), we would meet as a group in the lobby and go over our day. Our instructor would ask us questions, discuss important aspects of the day, and then ask what questions we had. We were usually super tired by that point, but it provided a nice conclusion to each day. If you have any questions throughout your day (i.e. how exactly did my nurse start the IV pump? Why is my patient receiving medication X instead of medication Y? How does this disease start?), jot them down and ask your instructor at this time.
After our meeting, the clinical group is free to leave the facility. Try and grab lunch with a few of your friends so you can talk, vent, or otherwise cool off from your stressful day. Going to Chipotle (right across the street from my hospital site) was the highlight of my clinical day. Erika and I would explain any cool things we saw or vent about how stressed we were (while stuffing our face with Mexican food, of course!).
I hope this helps any fellow nursing students who are a little frightened by the clinical experience. It can be very daunting if you’ve never experienced it before, but I can assure you that it does get better. The more familiar you become with your instructor and site, the better the experience is and more fun you have. By the last week of clinical, I was sad to leave my instructor and nurses, which was a very different feeling than my first week there!
I assure you that you can do it! Your first nursing clinical may be scary and anxiety-provoking, but most programs ease you into the whole process very gently (Thank you, EKU!). You already have many of the skills you need for clinical, so take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.
So good luck to all the nursing students who are about to start their next clinical rotation!
Already had your first week of clinical? What tips do you have for future students? What got you through those first few weeks? Be sure to subscribe and share!