Advice and development

Tips for nursing students on making the most of your final clinical placement

With registration within sight, it’s time to maximise every learning opportunity

With registration within sight, it’s time to maximise every learning opportunity

One last time: there’s much scope for development during your final placement. Picture: iStock

For many undergraduate nursing students, the final year of training can be a particularly challenging time. So getting the most from your final year is crucial if you are to emerge as confident, knowledgeable and caring nurses.

Starting your final year is daunting enough, but the realisation that in just 12 months you will be a nurse helping to run a ward or unit, or taking a caseload of patients in the community, can fill many students with horror.

Easing the transition from student to registrant

Making the transition from student to registered nurse can be fraught with feelings of anxiety, disbelief and fear as you combine career aspirations with placement attendance, final assignments, clinical assessments and portfolio completion.

But with the RCN estimating there are more than 40,000 nurse vacancies in England alone, it is vital we keep our newly qualified nurses in nursing. Managing the transition phase – and with the minimum amount of stress – can help ensure newly qualified nurses will still be in the profession five years from now and beyond.

One of the best ways to make this transition more smooth is to get the most out of your final practice placement. Here are some tips on how to make your last clinical placement as a nursing student work for you:

Build resilience 

This will help you manage stress and the challenges you will face as a nurse. Looking after your well-being is vital, so find out what works for you. This could include ensuring you get enough physical exercise, using relaxation techniques to help prevent you becoming stressed, and surrounding yourself with supportive people. It’s also important to be kind to yourself – acknowledge your achievements and learn from your mistakes.

Looking after your own well-being will help you manage challenges. Picture: iStock

Use your supernumerary status 

This is the last time you will be supernumerary so make the most of it and use your time wisely. This could include planning new experiences – are there any areas of practice related to your placement that you would like to know more about? Perhaps you could shadow a senior nurse for a shift to learn more about their role. Being supernumerary enables you to identify your strengths and limitations, work on areas where you need to improve your skills or learn new ones. 

Know your leadership style 

Your leadership skills will be put to the test from the day you step into your new workplace as a qualified nurse. If you are unsure of your leadership style, your final practice placement is the perfect opportunity to find out what this is and how others view you as a leader. Be bold and ask for constructive feedback and record this in your reflections.

Manage your emotions 

Nursing is an emotionally challenging profession and you will experience conflicting emotions as a nurse. Understanding what you are feeling and why will help you manage these emotions and the role they play in the decision-making process. Using your final placement to reflect on how you react to different situations will help equip you with the skills you need to make the transition from student to nurse run more smoothly.

Final placement is a good time to reflect on your emotional response to situations. Picture: iStock

Improve your confidence 

As a newly qualified nurse, you need to assimilate quickly into the clinical environment. Being confident in your practice and knowing your own limitations is vital to this, and your final practice placement is the ideal time to work on developing your confidence. Is there a particular clinical skill you need to improve on, for example? Or perhaps you need to hone your time-management or communication skills? Identifying any areas you could improve on at this stage of your training will help you prepare for your first nursing role.

Learn from colleagues 

Your more experienced nursing colleagues have a huge role to play in helping you adapt to life as a nurse, and it is important all nurses work collaboratively to help you transition successfully. Colleagues should encourage you to speak up if you have concerns and help allay any fears, as well as fostering a culture of respect for all and setting a good example. On your final placement, observe how your mentor and the nurses you admire treat their colleagues as well as their patients, and see if there are any lessons you can learn from this.

Evaluate your placement

Evaluating your clinical placements is an important step in your professional journey; it is your opportunity to highlight placements that provide quality learning opportunities and help ensure others remain fit for purpose. Using professional and constructive language to evaluate your final placement will show you can communicate well, and demonstrate your ability to contribute to a wider concept of quality assurance and future nursing practice. As a registered nurse, it will soon be your working environment that will be evaluated by others, so use this opportunity wisely.

Catherine Best is a lecturer in the school of nursing and healthcare leadership at the University of Bradford 

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