Preparing yourself for a clinical practice placement

All students undertaking a nursing programme are required to complete clinical practice placements. These placement hours contribute to the essential components required to join the Nursing and Midwifery Council register and to practice as a nurse. Clinical practice placements can be stressful for students to undertake, and such stress can compromise their learning. Understanding the change in learning environment that accompanies a placement and thorough preparation beforehand by the student can reduce anxiety and improve the learning experience. This article describes the preparation that a student can make to ensure a successful and educational clinical practice placement.

Aims and intended learning outcomes

Clinical practice placements are an integral part of training to be a nurse. This article outlines the main points for consideration by nursing students when preparing for placements. The article is written with regard to clinical practice placements in an acute hospital setting, although most of the principles can be transferred to community or other practice placement areas. After reading this article and completing the time out activities you should be able to:

  • Confidently prepare yourself for your first shift on a placement.
  • Demonstrate a professional appearance and behaviour on the placement.
  • Identify the learning outcomes you want to meet during the placement.
  • Identify the learning opportunities available in your placement area with assistance from your mentor.
  • Plan for the assessment element of the placement with support from your mentor.
  • Reflect on your learning experience throughout the duration of the placement.


The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) (2010) requires that all pre-registration nursing programmes should be comprised of 50% theory and 50% practice. Undergraduate nursing students must complete 2,300 hours of clinical practice placements as well as achieving the required academic credits to gain entry to the professional register as a nurse (NMC 2010). A clinical practice placement can be defined as a block of time spent in a clinical setting where students develop their nursing practice under the supervision of registered and competent practitioners (Royal College of Nursing (RCN) 2006). Clinical practice placements are usually structured in blocks of six, eight or 12 weeks with learning outcomes that are specific to the type of clinical area and relevant to the student’s year of study (Levett-Jones and Bourgeois 2006).

Students often report feeling apprehensive and anxious before placements, and this can have a negative effect on learning (Buyssen 1996, DeWit 2003). Preparation for the clinical practice placement by the student can reduce first-day anxiety and improve the overall learning experience.

Clinical practice placements areas are often referred to as ‘learning environments’, and the learning environment comprises the physical environment such as a ward, the skill of the mentors supporting students and the clinical activities undertaken in that area (Scott and Spouse 2013). All three components should be relevant to students’ learning outcomes and provide a supportive culture of learning and development to ensure a successful placement (Scott and Spouse 2013). Hospitals are responsible for ensuring that the areas in which students are placed meet these requirements and for ensuring that staff who mentor students are appropriately trained, qualified and supported.

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