Everything You Need to Know About Clinical Rotations for Student Nurses

In order to qualify as a student nurse, your studies will need to combine both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

During your course, you’ll be attending lectures and nursing labs but may also be required to start clinical rotations or placements alongside this.

But what are clinical rotations, why are they important, and what are they like?

This guide should give you everything you need to know about your clinical rotations and how you can pass with flying colors.

What are clinical rotations?

Clinical rotations are supervised placements in which nursing students get the opportunity to interact with real patients under the supervision of licensed professionals or preceptors. If you want to see how you can become a preceptor, check out this post Preceptors Needed: Shape the Next Generation.

The placements will typically give student nurses a chance to work across a variety of specialty areas so they can put everything they’ve already learned into practice. Don’t worry though; you won’t be thrown in the deep end. All practical skills are practiced through simulation labs before you enter your real-world placements.

Depending on the course you choose, you may be required to work 8-12 hour shifts each week, but this will give you a feel for the types of shift patterns you may be subjected to during your career as a nurse.

During your clinical rotations, your responsibilities will develop the further you get into your course. For example, at first, you might be responsible for charting or changing beds. Later, you will be able to manage more complex tasks.

Why are clinical rotations an important part of nursing education?

It may seem obvious, but clinical rotations are an integral part of nursing education.

It’s these placements that give students the chance to put all their theoretical knowledge into practice in real-life scenarios. Students also get to experience the ins and outs of the nursing profession, giving them a better understanding as to whether they’re suited to the work and the pressures of the job.

During rotations, you’ll be able to gain firsthand experience in the complexities that are administering healthcare. Every patient’s needs are entirely different, and you’ll be able to observe other professionals master their field.

Clinical rotations will give you experience in following protocols for handling patient information, understanding how to communicate with different stakeholders, patients, and their families, and how to perform therapeutic interventions in a caring and empathetic manner.

Nursing school clinical rotations: What to expect

Your clinical rotations will likely be chosen for you by your course leaders. Each nursing program will have its own relationships with different health organizations in your area. They’ll have a pre-arranged number of students that can take part each semester.

The types of facilities your course is affiliated with will determine the types of rotations you’ll be placed on. All rotations must include acute care hospitals, but other placements may include public health agencies, outpatient facilities, or even mental health centers – so you’ll get a good chance to see how different departments and facilities work and work out which ones you might be interested in working in.

The length of your rotations may differ. Some may be based on how many hours you need to achieve, while others will be a specific number of shifts. Even though you’re a student, there is a chance you will be placed on evening or night shifts. Shifts are typically around 8 to 12 hours long.

Once you’ve completed the required number of hours for your first rotation, you’ll be assigned another.

Your first placement will be incredibly nerve-wracking. In fact, depending on how well you settle in, you may be nervous before each rotation. There is seemingly a lot of pressure as soon as you start to see real patients; however, you’ll be supported every step of the way.

Rotations are a great learning experience, and there will be plenty of people around you to make you feel welcome on your different shifts. You may even be able to secure yourself employment in a certain department for when you finish your studies.

How to ace your clinical rotations

Your clinical rotations are a key part of your education. And you need to pass them.

However, these placements are only as good as you make them. You need to dive in with confidence and an open mind and with a willingness to try anything at least once. Radiating a positive attitude will certainly help you build a support network while on the ward, as other busy professionals will be much more open to helping those that seem to be struggling if they provide a positive and welcoming manner.

Make sure you’re on time

As with any work experience, interview, or first day, it’s crucial that you’re always on time for your shifts – if not early.

Showing up late is just about the worst thing you can do. Preceptors and other staff are dedicating time out of their busy working day to share their knowledge, and you won’t create a good impression if you waste that time by being late.

You also need to remember that hospitals and health facilities can be complicated places that are difficult to navigate. While your bus might stop right outside the hospital, that doesn’t mean you should leave it until the last minute to arrive. You might find that your placement is in a department on the entire opposite side of the premises.

You need to leave yourself plenty of time to get to your department. In your later rotations, you should also try to get to your shift early so that the previous shift nurse can provide you with their handover. Otherwise, you’re also eating into their time off.

If you do need to miss a shift or think you might be late, you should always contact your supervisor to let them know.

If there’s a problem, speak up

Hopefully, nothing will become a problem while you’re on your clinical rotation. However, if you do find yourself struggling or think there’s a problem of any kind, it is worth speaking to your supervisor about it. If you’ve been paired with a new preceptor and feel they’re not being as helpful as you need them to be, or they’re not offering you enough practical opportunities, speak up. Your rotations are there to give you the experience that you need.

Be equipped

You will more than likely be provided colored scrubs for your shifts; however, if you’re not provided with these, you’ll need to source your own. There is also the possibility that you will need to bring your own equipment,such as a stethoscope. This will likely be outlined in your course kit list.

Prepare yourself

Nobody is expecting you to be an immediate expert when you start your clinical rotations. There are, however, plenty of ways for you to prepare yourself. For example, you may want to read up on common conditions for the department you’re working in or review a patient’s medical history when you get assigned to their care.

Be inquisitive

Your clinical trials aren’t just a place to practice your skills. They’re also a great place to gain new insight and information about the profession. Make sure to ask lots of questions. However, it’s important to time your questions properly (i.e., not in the middle of CPR), and you shouldn’t waste anyone else’s time if you can answer the question yourself.

Don’t try to know more than you do

As mentioned above, the rest of your team are there to support you. Everyone is aware that you’re a student nurse, and you’re still learning. So, try not to put pressure on yourself to know everything. When administering care to patients, it’s pretty important that you know what you’re doing at all times. It isn’t a role where you can ‘fake it till you make it’.

Make sure to speak up if you’re not 100% on how to do something.

What not to do on your clinical rotations

Don’t avoid scary procedures

Your clinical rotations are there to give you the experience you need. Avoiding procedures that you’re scared to do will only jeopardize your learning. You should take advantage of your placements to gain as much information and experience as you can. Try not to avoid situations; simply ask for help when you’re unsure.

Ignore gossip

Hospitals are just like any other workplace. There are plenty of people that will gossip and complain on shift, but this isn’t something to get involved in.

Don’t complain

You may not get the shift pattern you wanted. Maybe you’re not really keen on the other colleagues on your ward. Perhaps you really didn’t want to have to do a certain task. Whatever the issue is, if it can be brushed under the carpet, don’t complain. Things like your feet hurting or how tired you are are comments you can keep to yourself. If you do want to complain, it’s better to do so with another student.