Advice and development

Ten tips to help students make the most of placements

Clinical placements are a valuable part of nursing students' training

Clinical placements are a valuable part of your nursing training, take advantage of all the opportunities you can

Picture: Barney Newman

As clinical placements make up 50% of your nursing degree, you will spend a lot of time in clinical settings as a nursing student.

Each placement will be different and you may enjoy some placements more than others.

Passing your placements is important so that you can progress through your training, but clinical placements also offer a wealth of learning opportunities. Getting as much out of a placement as possible is vital for your development, whichever area of nursing you are studying.

Here are my top ten tips for getting the most out of your clinical placements:

1. Take advantage of every learning opportunity

Be nosy and say yes to seeing and doing new things. Students are not counted in the staff numbers, so you can get involved in a range of learning opportunities inside and outside of your placement setting. Even if you don’t feel confident enough to be hands-on, observing will give you valuable insights.


2. Show initiative

Take responsibility for your learning. If you want to spend some time working with a specialist, don’t wait to be asked or for someone to organise this for you. Find out what you need to know and organise it yourself.


3. Do your research

Once you know which clinical placement area you are going to, do some research beforehand. Being prepared will help you get the most out of your experience and finding out what opportunities are available will help you to structure your learning needs.


4. Move out of your comfort zone

We all need to do things which challenge us at times, so don’t shy away from your weaker areas and explore them within safe limitations. If you are shy, for example, make it your goal to answer the telephone more to build up your confidence when speaking to strangers.

As a student you will have the support and guidance of experienced professionals, so now is the time to tackle the things that scare you the most.


5. Ask for feedback

Learn how to take constructive criticism and apply it to your practice. Ask for feedback from your nursing colleagues, patients and colleagues in other disciplines too – this will give you a more rounded picture of how you are doing. If you are working with someone for the first time, ask them for one thing you did well that shift and one thing you could improve on.

Regular feedback will identify the areas you need to improve on and the areas you are doing well in - praise can help boost your confidence. Make notes on the feedback you have received and take these to meetings with your practice assessor.


6. Set personal goals

Meeting the criteria in your practice assessment document is important, but setting small, achievable goals that go beyond university requirements can help motivate you and make you a more rounded practitioner. This could include making an active effort to practise self care, doing more exercise or undertaking extra curricular activities. 


7. Ask lots of questions

When you show a willingness to learn, people will show a willingness to teach. If you do not understand something or need it to be explained further, just ask. And remember – there is no such thing as a stupid question.


8. Network

Placements are a great opportunity for networking. If you find an area that interests you or a ward you can see yourself working on, speak to staff working there to see what it’s like. Take down the contact details of managers or clinical educators so that you can get in touch with them at a later date.


9. Shadow other healthcare professionals

Observing professionals in their job will give you an insight into their roles, and help you to understand how their work links with yours. Why not aim high and ask if you can spend the day shadowing the chief nurse at the trust?


10. Don’t worry if you don’t like your placement

If you are not enjoying a placement, don’t be disheartened. Clinical placements are a great way of finding areas of practice that may interest you, but they can also help you rule out what isn’t for you. There will be something new to learn on every placement, so make the most of each one.

Read more articles for new students

Nicola Wiafe is a staff nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit @_xniicc

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