Advice and development

Get the most out of your practice placements

As a student you should expect support, but you can also take a proactive approach to your learning.

As a student you should expect support, but you can also take a proactive approach to your learning

Before each placement you are likely to experience a range of conflicting emotions. Along with the excitement of facing a new clinical environment may come fear, anxiety and self-doubt. These feelings are entirely normal and similar to what most people feel when starting a new job.

You can learn a lot from patients on your placement. Picture: John Houlihan

Developing emotional strength is a necessary part of your learning process and will help you become a resilient nurse. Your mentor and other nurses have a duty to support you, but you must recognise your own responsibilities and find ways to take control of your learning so that all your needs are met. As the RCN states in its student toolkit: ‘You have a central role in getting the most out of your practice placement.’

Proactive versus reactive

Imagine you are in a car and the driver waits until things happen on the road and reacts accordingly. It would be a pretty bumpy ride. Fortunately, most drivers learn to ‘read’ the road to ensure a safe and comfortable trip most of the time.

Similarly, with your learning, take a proactive approach instead of always waiting to be told what to do or merely reacting to situations; this will give you more control and allow you to be in the driving seat.

How to approach placements

Before a placement begins:

• Research your new clinical area or specialty: talk to previous students if you can and make use of online forums.

• Arrange a pre-placement visit: this will help to reduce your anxieties and show that you are motivated.

• Think back over previous placements and reflect on what went well and what didn’t. Use this knowledge to set clear learning objectives based not only on clinical competencies but also on how you want to improve your overall practice.

During the placement:

• Introduce yourself to all members of the team and identify what stage you are at in your course; this will subtly help to set expectations.

• Share your personalised learning objectives with your mentor and acknowledge any specific skills or behaviours you want to work on.

• Arrange regular one-to-one time with your mentor: before each session make plans for what you want to discuss.

• Ask as many questions as you need to. Don’t listen to the critical voices in your head saying ‘I should know this’. Remember that your role is to learn.

• Continuously look for learning opportunities that match your level of experience.

• Talk to your patients: often they can provide more learning opportunities than any textbook.

After the placement ends:

• Reflect on what you have learned and any constructive feedback you received. Ask yourself what else you can take away from this placement.


Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and health/life coach

The RCN toolkit, Helping students get the best from their practice placements, can be viewed here



This article is for subscribers only