Clinical placements: their purpose and what to expect

Nursing courses at all levels have different components, and all are vitally important to be ready to take up work as a nurse or advance in a nursing career. Whether in person or online, the important part of the course is what you study. In nursing courses, you will learn about the different aspects of nursing and nursing practice, helping you build the knowledge and skills necessary for work at your desired level. An online course may also offer a residency where students can attend the university for a few days, meeting their course leaders and fellow students and making use of the university facilities indian news.

While these parts of the courses are essential and highly valuable, they would not adequately prepare students for their nursing career without clinical placements, where students spend a set number of hours in real-life clinical settings, working with actual patients. While the experience is one of the most engaging parts of the course, it is also often the most challenging, and, understandably, many student nurses feel nervous before starting their placements. By understanding the purpose of clinical placements and knowing what to expect while on them, student nurses can be better prepared for their clinical placements and know how to make the most of the opportunity.

Theory into practice

Whatever level of nursing you are at, your course will have been preparing you with the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out work as a nurse. Learning the theory of skills is a good first step, but it is not a substitute for putting these skills into action, as you will have to once you are qualified. Clinical placements are a way of bridging the gap between theory and practice as you carry out nursing tasks on real patients but under the supervision of experienced nurses. Acquiring the skills to put theory into practice is one of the key purposes of clinical placements.

Experience a real-life setting

The often fast-paced life of hospitals and other clinical settings can be hard to describe, and hearing about it or watching videos cannot fully prepare nursing students for the real thing. Clinical placements allow nursing students to experience various settings, allowing them to gain a feel for how they work and develop strategies for managing the workloads and facing the challenges this demanding, but highly rewarding career can bring. Through experiencing a variety of settings, student nurses can start to gain an idea of the places they might like to work in once they qualify and what areas of healthcare most interest them.

Treating real patients

During your time on the course, you will undoubtedly have been taught skills such as applying dressings or starting IVs, but actually carrying out these actions on real patients is an experience that cannot be adequately simulated. On clinical placements, you will be carrying out these tasks under supervision, helping prepare you to carry out these actions independently as a qualified nurse.

As well as the practical actions a nurse carries out with their patients, student nurses can also learn how to behave around patients, gaining experience in how to communicate effectively and developing a good bedside manner that will give the patients confidence in their abilities.

Learning from professionals

On a clinical placement, student nurses will be learning from experts – those currently doing the job. Through observing and working with these expert professionals, a nursing student gets the best possible education on how to proceed. As well as other nurses, the student may also work with other medical professionals such as physicians, radiologists, and physiotherapists. Healthcare requires a vast team of professionals, and on clinical placements, student nurses can start to gain insights into how other medical professionals work and how this fits with the role of the nurse.

As well as being able to see how these professionals treat patients, they are also a fount of knowledge in all areas of nursing. By asking questions of experienced nurses, you can learn more about all aspects of nursing and discover their strategies for managing a demanding workload, dealing with difficult patients, or coping emotionally with the profession’s sadder aspects. You can also gain vital knowledge from the newly qualified nurses. They will have been doing their own clinical placements not long before and can give you suggestions on how to make the most of them, tips on how to secure your first employment after qualification, and what it is like starting out in a nursing career.


While on clinical placement, student nurses receive feedback from their preceptors on how they are performing. While this can be daunting, it is an essential step toward becoming a proficient nurse. Only through feedback can you understand which aspects of your nursing practice need improvement and how to build further on your strengths. Ultimately a key aim of clinical placements is to help you develop into a nurse ready to work in the profession, and this feedback is a key part of your professional development.

Preparation can help you make the most of clinical placements, and if you are clear about what you can expect while on placement, you will have a better idea of what you need to do to prepare.

Securing a clinical placement

The first stage of clinical placements is securing a suitable place for them While clinical placements are a key part of virtually all nursing courses at all levels, there is no one way of securing a clinical placement, with arrangements varying from school to school. Some universities expect their student nurses to secure their own placements, while others offer support in varying degrees. When choosing a good nursing qualification course, it is well worth considering how clinical placements are secured at that establishment. When students have to do all the work in securing placements, it can take many hours over several days, weeks, or even months – time that could be better spent focusing on studies. A university that offers good support in securing placements is well worth considering.

It might be thought that an online course, without even the local contacts of an in-person course, would be the worst at offering placement support. But this is not the case. When considering online courses look to see if you are helped in securing placements, as you may well be pleasantly surprised. Those looking for the best online FNP programs to consider for their next career progression should take a look at Carson Newman University. Their clinical placement services are comprehensive, supporting their students from start to finish with a placement specialist handling the logistics in securing sites for 600 hours of experience at a convenient location from their network of providers or the student’s own referrals.

If you are on a course where students must secure their own clinical placements, the best advice is to start early and research thoroughly to ensure the placements meet the course requirements.

Before starting

Once a clinical placement is secured, it is a good idea to contact the place. Ideally, this will be done in person, but if that is not possible, an email or phone call can be used to introduce yourself and ask any practical questions. As every clinical setting is different, this is a good way to find out more precisely what to expect from your placement.

You will have been allocated a preceptor, an experienced clinician at the setting who will supervise you throughout your time in that setting and is the first port of call for help with any issues that may arise.

Things to find out before starting can include rules around issues such as a dress code or behavior. If you can visit the setting in person, it is also a chance to learn the layout of the building. Some settings, such as hospitals, can be very large, and having an idea of the layout will be beneficial as this will be something you have to familiarize yourself with in the first few days.


Even students who have been at their most confident in the classroom can become nervous when having to work with real patients suffering from genuine illnesses or injuries. A common concern is that they may get something wrong, making a situation that is already bad for the patient even worse. If you feel like that about clinical placement, the good news is that you are not alone, and an experienced preceptor will expect it.

How much supervision you get will depend very much on what stage of your nursing career you are at. Undergraduates on their first clinical placement will start off under close supervision. But by the time they undertake clinical placements in their final semester, they will be expected to work more autonomously. For students who already have experience as an RN and who are undertaking further qualifications to advance their career into becoming a nurse leader or family nurse practitioner, they will require less supervision, with the focus being more on preparing them for the more advanced roles.


How long each placement lasts will depend very much on what the requirements are and can vary from course to course, as well as the level of the qualification you are undertaking. As the idea is for the clinical placement to closely mimic a real-life nursing experience, you can expect each shift to be of a similar standard to the other nurses in the setting, generally eight to twelve hours.

Nursing duties

By the time you achieve the nursing qualification you have been aiming for, you should be able to competently carry out all the nursing duties and tasks of a nurse of that level. Exactly what takes place on a clinical placement will depend on the student’s current level and the requirements of the setting. Initially, there will be a lot of observation of more experienced nurses with the opportunity to ask questions. Over time this will build up to taking observations, assessing patients, helping to make diagnoses, and developing treatment plans, as well as the practical duties of changing dressings, setting up IVs, and dispensing medication.

Those undertaking further qualifications will already be proficient at any tasks that are a regular part of the work of a registered nurse, but they will start to learn the more specific and advanced duties relevant to the roles they aspire to.

It is a good idea when on clinical placement to look beyond what is specified to develop a greater understanding of the healthcare setting. You may, for example, find an interest in a particular area of healthcare and seek out opportunities in that area or ask to shadow other healthcare professionals to understand their role better and whether it fits with how you work.

Working with others

While on clinical placements, you can expect to meet an array of other medical professionals. These can range from students at the same level as yourself to more advanced and graduate students, alongside experienced professionals across the healthcare spectrum. As well as providing a wealth of healthcare knowledge, working with others is an excellent way to help boost the communication skills necessary for good nursing. As well as communication, clinical placement is the ideal environment to hone many other soft skills, such as organization and empathy, and you can expect to see these skills develop throughout your placements.

Evaluation and feedback

Something that can cause considerable anxiety is what to expect from evaluation and feedback. Clinical placements are a challenge every nursing student wants to succeed at, so receiving feedback and evaluations can be a nerve-racking experience.

Different courses have different expectations on how evaluation and feedback are carried out, but generally, it can be done both formally and informally. Certainly, some formal evaluation will be done to report back to your course provider on how you are progressing. Alongside that, there may be more informal evaluations and opportunities for feedback.

Feedback should always be constructive. Making mistakes is inevitable when you are learning, and during the evaluation, the preceptor should be able to identify any areas of weakness and give you advice and strategies on how you can improve. They should also be able to highlight areas where you met or exceeded expectations and again provide suggestions on how these can be improved further or used to strengthen your nursing performance overall.

As a nursing student, you should be able to request feedback or the opportunity to debrief after a shift. Nobody expects a student to arrive knowing how to carry out every task perfectly, but they do expect to see a student keen to search out opportunities to improve. By being proactive in seeking feedback, you can demonstrate that commitment to improvement and get advice in areas that you feel would be most useful.

As well as being evaluated by others, as a nursing student, you should also evaluate yourself. Set goals on what you want to achieve on each placement and within each shift, and afterward, consider whether you achieved that goal and if you found it challenging. If so, this may be an area needing improvement and practice. From there, you can set further targets to help you develop your skills.

The clinical placement experience

Through the challenges and tricky days, a clinical placement should be a positive experience, as it allows you to put into practice the theoretical knowledge you have learned through study. Although the colleagues you meet there will be busy professionals, they should also be welcoming and happy to talk, passing on the benefits of their experience and giving you a greater insight into life in a particular nursing role.

Throughout the experience, you should expect to see your skills developing, including the practical nursing skills and the soft skills that nurses require. With constructive, helpful feedback from your preceptor, you should have a clear learning pathway as they help you improve areas of weakness and enhance your strengths.

Above all, clinical placements should give you a clear idea of what it is like to work in that particular nursing role. Working in different settings can help influence your career path as you decide whether an environment feels like a good fit for you and set career goals for when you qualify. Although clinical placements are full of challenges, they are also times that can help you blossom as a nurse and see the difference you can make every day. Ultimately your clinical placements should leave you feeling more enthusiastic than ever.

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