Clinical Placements: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Clinical placements are a crucial part of any nurse’s training, as it provides them with the chance to experience real-life clinical situations and apply their newly acquired knowledge. This hands-on experience is invaluable for nurses, as it allows them to develop practical skills and confidence before entering full-time work in the nursing field. Learning more about clinical placements can help you prepare yourself effectively and get the most from the experience. In this article, we explore what a clinical placement is, what they involve and how to prepare for one.

What is a clinical placement?

Clinical placements are an essential component of healthcare education for those completing a wide variety of nursing programs, including an MSN NP program such as the one offered by Spring Arbor University. These courses equip nurses with the clinical expertise to prevent, assess, treat and manage acute and chronic diseases. Clinical placements offer a platform to implement theoretical knowledge in real-life scenarios and gain hands-on experience, enhance their skills and competencies and collaborate with patients and other healthcare professionals. Clinical placements include their fair share of challenges, and adequate preparation is crucial to ensure that students gain the most from their experience.

What to expect during clinical placements

Depending on the discipline, institution and the specific clinical setting you’re placed in, there are variations in what to expect from clinical placements. Here are some common features:

Working in a clinical setting

Clinical placements provide healthcare students with the opportunity to gain practical experience in a real-world clinical setting. These settings can include hospitals, clinics or community health centers, where students will work alongside healthcare professionals to provide patient care. In this environment, students should be prepared to encounter patients with a diverse range of health conditions and backgrounds. Students will require sensitivity and compassion to address their patients’ unique needs.

The clinical environment can be fast-paced, busy and stressful, necessitating effective communication and interpersonal skills. As a result, clinical placements are an essential component of healthcare education, allowing students to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical setting and develop the critical skills required to become competent and compassionate healthcare professionals.

Following the healthcare team

During clinical placements, healthcare students will be assigned to a healthcare team led by a clinical instructor or preceptor. Under the supervision of their preceptor, they will be expected to follow the team’s established protocols, policies and procedures to provide optimal patient care. Effective communication with other team members is also essential to ensure the smooth coordination of care. Students should be proactive in seeking guidance and feedback from their preceptors to enhance their skills and knowledge. By working closely with experienced healthcare professionals, students can develop the critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills necessary to become successful healthcare practitioners.

Developing clinical skills

Clinical placements are an invaluable opportunity for students to develop their clinical skills in a real-world setting. Students will be able to perform vital tasks, such as taking patients’ vital signs, performing physical assessments, administering medications and communicating with patients and their families. Additionally, they will learn how to document patient care and work with electronic health records to maintain accurate and comprehensive patient records.

By actively participating in patient care under the guidance of experienced healthcare professionals, students can enhance their clinical competencies, improve their patient interaction skills and gain valuable experience in the use of healthcare technology. Clinical placements thus play a crucial role in preparing students for a successful healthcare career.

Learning about patient-centered care

In healthcare practice, patient-centered care is a fundamental principle that ensures that patients are treated with respect, empathy and dignity. During clinical placements, students will be expected to learn how to provide care that is responsive and tailored to individual patient needs. They will be taught how to work collaboratively with patients and families to promote their health and well-being, taking into account their unique preferences and cultural background. It’s essential for students to understand that patient-centered care involves active listening, empathy and effective communication. By embracing this principle, students can cultivate strong relationships with patients, foster trust and provide high-quality care that meets patients’ needs and expectations.

Reflecting on practice

Reflection is a crucial aspect of clinical learning, allowing students to gain a deeper understanding of their clinical experiences and develop their professional skills. During clinical placements, students will be expected to reflect on their practice, identifying areas for improvement and opportunities for growth. Through self-reflection, students can develop self-awareness, recognize their strengths and weaknesses and improve their clinical competencies.

Students will be encouraged to discuss their clinical experiences with their clinical instructor or preceptor, receiving feedback and guidance to support their learning. By engaging in reflective practice, students can optimize their clinical learning experience, enhancing their understanding of patient care and developing the skills required to become successful healthcare professionals.

How to prepare for clinical placements

Taking time to prepare for your clinical placement can help you get the most from your experience. Here are some tips on how to do so:

Review your theoretical knowledge

Before embarking on a clinical placement, it is vital to review your theoretical knowledge of the discipline. This review should include fundamental subjects such as anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology and patient-centered care. Refreshing your theoretical knowledge will enable you to better understand the clinical experiences you will encounter, allowing you to apply your theoretical knowledge to practice.

This understanding of fundamental concepts will help you navigate complex patient cases with more ease, leading to better outcomes for your patients. Additionally, it will assist you in developing your critical thinking skills and clinical judgment, helping you make informed decisions in the healthcare setting. By investing time in reviewing and refreshing your theoretical knowledge, you will be better equipped to learn and succeed in your clinical placement.

Attend orientation

It is crucial to attend any orientation sessions provided by your educational institution before commencing clinical placement. These sessions offer an overview of the clinical setting and the healthcare team you will be working with, as well as expectations for students. Orientation sessions also provide knowledge on policies and procedures such as medication administration, infection control and documentation, all of which are necessary for safe and effective patient care.

Additionally, these sessions offer the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any concerns that may arise before beginning your clinical placement. With adequate preparation, you will be more confident and capable of navigating the clinical environment, maximizing your learning experience and improving patient outcomes.

Dress appropriately

Dressing professionally and appropriately for the clinical setting is essential to establish a professional image and create a positive first impression with patients, families and healthcare providers. It is necessary to follow the dress code provided by your educational institution, which may include wearing scrubs, closed-toe shoes and a name tag. Scrubs are a common dress code requirement in clinical settings and help maintain a sterile environment. Closed-toe shoes provide safety and protect against exposure to hazardous materials.

Also, it is crucial to avoid wearing jewelry, perfumes or anything that may interfere with patient care or pose a safety risk. By adhering to the dress code, you are demonstrating your commitment to providing quality care while also upholding professional standards.

Be punctual

Arriving on time for your clinical placement is crucial to demonstrate your professionalism and commitment to patient care. It shows respect for the healthcare team, patients and the clinical setting, and it also allows you to receive the full benefit of your placement. Being punctual is essential as it demonstrates reliability, a crucial trait for healthcare professionals.

Arrive early enough to allow for any unforeseen circumstances such as traffic, delays in public transport or parking. Being punctual ensures that you have adequate time to receive patient assignments, review policies and prepare for the day’s activities. By arriving on time, you will establish a positive impression, earn the respect of your colleagues and maximize your learning opportunities.

Communicate effectively

Effective communication is a crucial aspect of healthcare practice and requires a great deal of skill and sensitivity. As a student on clinical placement, you will be expected to develop and hone your communication skills. This will involve practicing active listening, which means fully engaging with what the patient is saying and showing empathy for their concerns. Additionally, you should be able to provide clear and concise explanations of medical information and use appropriate body language to convey your message effectively. Respectful and professional communication is key when interacting with patients, families and healthcare professionals. It fosters trust, collaboration and positive patient outcomes.

Prepare mentally and emotionally

Participating in a clinical placement can be an intense and emotional journey that requires adequate preparation. You may come across patients with intricate health issues and emotionally challenging situations that can cause stress. To cope with these challenges, it is crucial to prioritize your emotional and mental wellbeing by engaging in self-care activities, such as physical exercise, nutritious eating and relaxation techniques. Seeking assistance from your clinical instructor, supervisor or the counseling services offered by your institution is essential whenever necessary. Remember, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for help and prioritize your wellbeing during your clinical placement.

Keep a learning journal

Maintaining a learning journal is a highly effective tool for medical professionals to reflect on their clinical experiences and identify areas for improvement. Regularly documenting your experiences, observations and reflections in your journal can help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. It also provides an opportunity to set achievable goals to work towards during your placement.

Your learning journal can be a valuable resource to review as you progress, enabling you to track your development and identify areas for further growth. By setting specific, measurable and realistic goals for yourself and reflecting on your progress regularly, you can enhance your clinical skills and knowledge, leading to a more rewarding and successful placement.

Be proactive

Being proactive and taking initiative is key to making the most of your clinical placement. Showing a willingness to learn and take on new challenges can help you to acquire valuable skills and knowledge. Asking questions, seeking opportunities to learn and offering to assist with tasks and procedures are excellent ways to enhance your learning experience.

Being proactive in seeking feedback and guidance from your clinical instructor or supervisor can also provide valuable insight into areas that need improvement. By taking the initiative to engage in your clinical placement actively, you can demonstrate your commitment to your profession, build your confidence and develop your clinical skills. It can also help you stand out to potential employers in the future.


Clinical placements are a crucial aspect of healthcare education that allow students to put their theoretical knowledge into practice, hone their skills and competencies and collaborate with patients and healthcare professionals. Despite all the benefits, these placements can be demanding, and adequate preparation is essential for success. To make the most of your clinical placement, it is important to review your theoretical knowledge, attend orientation, dress appropriately, be punctual, communicate effectively, seek feedback and prepare yourself mentally and emotionally.

Keeping a learning journal and being proactive are also valuable strategies to enhance your learning experience. Lastly, following ethical guidelines is paramount in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of patients and maintaining professional standards. By implementing these strategies, you can maximize the benefits of your clinical placement and lay a solid foundation for your healthcare career.