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Lessons Learned During Our First Semester Of Clinicals

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Specializes in Pediatric Emergency & Nurse Education.

What do you learn in nursing clinicals?

Nursing students never cease to amaze me. They absorb so much more than we often realize in the clinical environment. They are constantly listening, observing, learning and reflecting. Sometimes their perspectives include valuable reminders for all of us.

Lessons Learned During Our First Semester Of Clinicals

This was my first semester as a Clinical Instructor for brand new nursing students during their first clinical rotation. I looked forward to introducing the newbies to the world of nursing through an idealistic, positive lense. I knew that I would have to work hard to keep that lense clean when others threw dirt on it. What I didn't expect was the wisdom that these students would share at the end of their first semester of clinicals.

The following is a list of "lessons learned", written by a group of 14 future nurses from the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill, BSN class of 2016.

1 ) Really enjoy your clinical experiences- know that you will gain something from every patient contact.

2 ) Get to know your clinical group. Talk about each other's strengths and challenges early on. We are all good at something! Use your peers as resources.

3 ) Back each other up; work in teams if or when possible.

4 ) Keep your eyes and minds open to wanting to learn, and take advantage of every opportunity.

5 ) Appreciate the value of bed baths. They can make your patient feel a lot better and they also provide a great opportunity for you to assess your patient.

6 ) Form your OWN opinions about every patient- don't make assumptions or listen to labels placed on them by others.

7 ) All touch is important and meaningful- holding a hand, helping with a bath, etc. Don't be afraid to touch your patient.

8 ) Don't expect to know everything. Admit what you don't know or understand.

9 ) Always remember that the patients came to the hospital because they needed help.

10) Don't get too discouraged when you feel a patient has not received adequate care- instead let it MOTIVATE you to provide better care.

11) Don't let negative experiences with other staff get in the way of you caring for your patient- some of the best teachers are those who teach you what NOT to do.

12) Good communication with staff can set the tone for your entire day- make it very clear to both the nurse and the CNA at the beginning of your shifts what you will and will not be doing for your patient.

13) Don't forget to thank anyone and everyone who helps you.

14) Don't assume that just because someone is experienced, they are doing everything correctly.

15) When you are able to do something good for a patient, even if it seems like a hassle, look beyond the "doing" and appreciate the rewards you are receiving by providing your best care for that patient.

16) Keep a sense of humor. Don't be afraid to laugh.

17) Wear comfortable shoes.

18) Don't ever forget that patient have ears. Don't assume they can't hear just because they are medically fragile. Most of them can still hear you, and many of them can still understand you.

19) Don't be afraid to ask a "stupid question"- someone else has that question too.

Treat your patients as you would want to be treated, and as you would want your loved ones treated.

20) Start organized and stay organized- create/use a one page time management sheet to collect data throughout your shift- pens with multi colored ink can help too. Look at how different nurses organize their information- create something that works for you.

21) Prepare your patients for what you will do, no matter how simple it is. Tell patients what you are doing, and tell them what to expect.

22) Patients are human beings- remember that- they aren't just diseases or sets of signs and symptoms.

23) Take the time to sit down with your patients.

24) In difficult situations, you don't have to always know what to say. Your presence is what matters.

("Lessons Learned" above created by Ms. Griffin's and Mrs. Valcheff's NUR 364 clinical groups: Leslie C., Madeline D., Gabi D., Jake E., Claire E., Ben G., Ashlyn J., Jessica J., Albert L., Jacqueline M., Katherine R., Angel S., Emily T., and Vanessa V.)

I'm a pediatric emergency nurse of 12+ years and a clinical instructor for UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Nursing.

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9 Comment(s)

Loved reading this...thanks!

HappyWife77, BSN, RN

Specializes in Gerontology RN-BC and FNP MSN student. Has 21 years experience.

Great advice, especially the comment #11) Don't let negative experiences with other staff get in the way of you caring for your patient- some of the best teachers are those who teach you what NOT to do. Thanks for sharing! Best wishes for the future nurses and you as an instructor! :D:nurse:

I also took noticed with '''#11 Don't let negative experiences with other staff get in the way of you caring for your patient- some of the best teachers are those who teach you what NOT to do.'' Had a few incidence and took it by heart at first but learn to think of it as a challenge to work even harder.


Specializes in public health, women's health, reproductive health.

#3 is where it's at. 😉


Specializes in NICU. Has 6 years experience.

Words to live by for every nursing student.

I believe in #16 and #19. #16 is why I'm focusing on the pediatric patient population (hopefully) and #19 because any of my classmates can come and ask me, "is 1+1 still 2?" because some days you need that reassurance and not ridicule.

Great read.

What exactly do you mean in #12, can you give an example?



Specializes in Pediatric Emergency & Nurse Education.

mgrenwic said:
Great read.

What exactly do you mean in #12, can you give an example?


Thank you!

sure- they meant that there is sometimes confusion regarding what the nursing students can and cannot do / will and will not do with patients. such as a.m. care, vital signs, accu-checks, medications, dressing changes, etc. the nursing students learned the importance of reporting to not only the care nurse, but also the nurse tech (CNA) assigned to their patient- so that everyone was on the same page and understood the division of work for the day.

The most common example for us was- the students were supposed to do all accu-checks and vital signs during their shifts. But if they forgot to tell their CNAs that they were doing these things for their assigned patients, the CNAs would do these things before the students had the chance.