Nursing students anticipate going into a nursing clinical where they can finally begin to take all their book knowledge and apply it in real situations. Sounds exciting and empowering, right?

Sure, but the thought of starting a first nursing clinical also terrifies a lot of nursing students.

So, what spikes anxiety about clinicals? Lots of students are afraid they don’t know enough to go into a nursing clinical and are afraid they will make a mistake. Truthfully, this is a wholly valid concern. You will now be treating people and that is vastly different from anything else you have ever done.

Acknowledge that fear, but work with it as well. Don’t let your fear and your anxiety fluster you, let it focus you. Prepare as best you can for your clinicals and identify your own weaknesses and your own strengths. Try to find ways (and ask for them as well) to make use of your strong points and to stabilize and improve any areas where you don’t feel as competent as you’d like to be.

When you start your clinicals, ask more experienced nurses for advice. You will likely hear them say constant reassessment and reflection is a big part of any nurse’s job. After each day, think about what went right and what went wrong. Figure out ways you can make anything you did a little better.

Get the lay of the land early and memorize it. Know who is in charge, where different patients go, what the general routine is, where the supplies are, and who to go to with questions.

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Be the student who asks thoughtful questions. If you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment or you don’t know what to record, ask. And then listen to the answers and take notes so you don’t become the student who asks the same questions over and over. Ask and learn from it.

When you are in such a new situation, you are going to have to work harder to become better. Do some learning on the side – away from clinical and away from the classroom. Spend a few nights familiarizing yourself with the conditions you might see the most, the patient population that is prevalent in your clinical, or even medications and procedures you have seen. The more knowledge you have, the better you will be in your clinicals.

Develop a thick skin when you are in clinicals. Nursing is a fast-moving, stressful profession and if a nurse seems rude to you, she might not mean it personally, so don’t take it personally. Throughout your career, you’ll find not everyone is going to be helpful or nice. That just means you have to find a different way of getting your questions answered so your patient receives the best care possible. Don’t dwell on abruptness.

Remember the end goal is that you want to learn, but also remember it’s your patient who needs to be treated with the best care possible. With that focus in mind, you can stay on the right track to making the most of this first experience.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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