8 Tips for Surviving Clinical

When I walked onto the floor for my first clinical experience I was TERRIFIED. I had no idea what to expect, I was so afraid of touching a patient or being asked a question I couldn’t answer. When I saw my nursing school friends I was RELIEVED we were all feeling the same. We were excited and giddy BUT SO SCARED!


My classmates and I stood in a corner of the nurses station on our neuro step down clinical unit trying to stay as  unnoticeable as possible. Our bright red polos and white scrub pants (yea, you read it right - WHITE SCRUB PANTS) made it VERY obvious we were nursing students. .

We stood there like deer in headlights, we had no idea where to start. Our confident, cheery instructor came strutting up to us with a smile. She could, very clearly, read the horror on our faces. She pulled out charts handed them to us and said “we start here”. Immediately you could see a calmness take over our group.

Phew, we had someone to tell us what to do. That first day taught me so much. Your first clinical will be scary, helping your first patient will be scary, interacting with other nurses and doctors will be scary. BUT DO NOT FORGET... we ALL start there.

I wanted to share with you a few tips for surviving the clinical experience!

  1. SHOW UP EARLY! Do not add extra stress by rushing to get to where you are going. If I know the commute is 30 minutes I add an extra 30 and leave an entire hour early. If you do have some time to spare once you get there, great! Use that time to study or look over patient notes before your clinical begins!

  2. PREPARE - If your instructor sends you pre work or patient information PRIOR to clinical - USE THE RESOURCE! This will not always happen but if it does, take advantage of it. If not research the unit you are going to. For example - if you are going to be on a cardiac unit, research some of the most common meds you may find there!

  3. BRING FOOD - Not every clinical will have a cafeteria for you to grab food at. Be sure to bring snacks or food you can eat throughout the day. You CANNOT go all day without eating or drinking. I always packed a water bottle and my lunch box!

  4. DO NOT WORRY about what the nurses, doctors, CNAs think about you. You are on the floor to learn - so worry about that. Do not be concerned with looking stupid - you are NOT supposed to know WHERE things are or WHAT things are. If you have questions - ask them. You only do yourself (and future patients) a disservice when you do not speak up about things you do not know!

  5. BRING SUPPLIES. One black pen and a multi-colored click pen, small clip-board, your stethoscope, a few pieces of paper, a watch. Someone once told me they were afraid to bring these things because a nurse told them that having all that stuff gives away that you are a student or new nurse… to be honest, when you DON’T have these things, you just come across unprepared! When you have to go in and out of a patient room 20 times to get supplies, you’re wasting your time and theirs!

  6. BE CONFIDENT AND HUMBLE. There is a fine line between confidence being a know-it-all. Even if you have memorized the entire pathophysiology book, you still DO NOT know it all… trust me. Even nurses that have been working 20+ years do not claim to know everything. Put that pride aside and understand that as a student or new nurse - you are not supposed to know all the things! That is ok.

  7. THINK about your patient first. When you walk into the room, introduce yourself EVEN if you think the patient can’t see or hear you. Remember - treat your patient the way YOU would want to be treated as a patient, you can never fail if you do that.

  8. REFLECT. Take time after your clinical to write down what you learned and what things you want to work on. Pick 1-3 things to work on, NO MORE than that per week, no need to overwhelm yourself! With time you will become GREAT that the things you need to know! Take it one step at a time. DO NOT just reflect on what you need to work on but ALSO focus on what you did well and what you learned! Pat yourself on the back for showing up and putting in the most effort you could that day!

Lean on your nursing school friends as well, they are going through the same things you are going through, they can relate to your emotions. Use them as a resource to help you push through the hard stuff!

We all started nervous and clueless. And we all survived & learned through the processes. These are just a few tips that helped me get through my first few clinicals!

Remember - You CAN do this!