How to Succeed in Nursing Clinicals

nursing clinicals

If you’re like most nursing students, your clinical experiences will be either the best or worse (or potentially both) part of nursing school. There are many factors that influence the quality of your clinical experience. Most of which are out of your control, but despite that, you hold the keys to success during your nursing school clinicals. 

Be a Learner First

It takes 3–6 months to learn a new job, but experiences prove that it will take closer to a year to settle into a new nursing job. Keep in mind that you are only spending a handful of hours in your clinical setting; in other words, it’s normal for you to know next to nothing (and that’s okay).  

Your job is not to show what you know but to simply learn as much as you can from the experts around you who are practicing the nursing skills and patient care you are learning about on real patients. 

Make the Most of Your Preceptor

Your experience in nursing clinicals hinges heavily on your assigned preceptor (the RN that you will be shadowing). Some preceptors dread the thought of having a student especially while interacting with patients, most are indifferent, and some really enjoy students.   

If you can somehow influence your assignment and find one of the few preceptors on a unit that enjoys students and are good teachers, your chances of having a great clinical experience will be significantly improved.  

If you get someone who may fall into one of the other two categories, help them out, prove yourself useful, and try to develop some common ground. If you do end up with a preceptor who dreads having you around, remember how you felt once you’re a nurse and vow to never treat a nursing student like that. 

Ask Questions

As a nursing student, you may not realize everything that’s going on around you. Be wise enough to ask good questions to bring out the depth of knowledge in the nurses you are following.  

A thoughtful and relevant question allows the receiver to get a glimpse into where your thoughts are as a student. This roundabout way shows them that you are tracking with them and learning as well as your ability to connect the dots throughout the day. This type of progress is what they want to see.   

Remember: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Approach your clinical with a learning attitude. Since you don’t know everything regarding a particular skill or situation, asking broad questions can help to enhance your learning opportunity. You’ll gain valuable information that leads to a great clinical experience that will shape you in becoming a better nurse.   

Practical Pointers

Be prepared and well rested. Pick up a coffee on the way in if you need it. There is a fine line between asking good questions and a million questions during nursing clinicals.  

It might cause distress not to think about all the schoolwork and projects you could be working on during your clinical. Do your best to set that aside during clinical. This is your time to take what you’ve learned in the classroom and see it in a hospital setting, so make the best use of your time.  


Most importantly, have fun! Nursing is an awesome profession, and learning in the clinical setting is an exciting part of your nursing education. 


Looking for more nursing school advice? Download Surviving Nursing School and Passing the NCLEX-RN: A Guide for Nursing Students. Filled with words of wisdom from nurses who have been through it all, this FREE eBook will help you on your journey towards becoming a nurse, before, during, and after nursing school. 

The writing staff at BoardVitals is passionate about medicine, healthcare, and education. We’ve trained over 1.5 million physicians and work with more than 300 top teaching institutions. Learn more about our board review and continuing education products at

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